My life is my own! What’s mine is mine! I earned that! It’s no one else’s business what I do with my own things!
Well, perhaps. In an individualistic society. But the (admittedly very imperfect) society Jesus lived in, and the (heavenly and thus much better) one which he taught and envisaged, were deeply communal. We do not simply belong to ourselves, with no reference to anyone else. Indeed such an atomised approach to life and society is (in the grand scheme of history) really very modern. John Donne, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, famously said in one of his sermons “no man is an island, entire of itself.” It’s worth quoting in full.
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
We are not isolated beings, and we do not “own” anything, not even our lives or selves. Everything we have is a gift from God, and we are but stewards or caretakers of it. And in the end we will have to give account for how we have handled and used what was entrusted to us. Have we done our best to create something beautiful or useful with what we were given? Have we left the world a better or at the very least different place to how it was? Have we taken what was given and made something more with it? After all, in part this is what it is to bear the image of God: to be co-creators with Him, and not merely creatures whose lives are passing shadows and make no imprint upon the world.
One day we will have to give account to God for what He entrusted to us. That may sound fearful – and maybe it would be, if we were facing a Victorian headmaster who judged only on outcomes and outward appearances. But instead we offer our gifts to a loving parent, and we can do so with the same confidence of a toddler offering her creation to her mum or dad – confident that this thing, whatever it is, will be appreciated for the love and “trying” that went into it, even if it is rather lopsided and bent. We can’t create to God’s standard, but we can at least try. We can’t make planets, stars, new creatures. But we can make our lives shine with love, and make the lives of those around us better and more joyful. We can take the gifts of light and love which God gave to us, and grow both of those by sharing them with others – for that’s the thing about light and love – the more we give, the more we have, and the more there is around us.
No man is an island, entire of itself. Any man’s death – or lack, hunger, lostness, suffering – diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. We are all one in Christ. Our lives are not our own, they are God’s gift to us. And what we enjoy on earth is not truly ours, but merely entrusted to us, to grow and share; and in the end to give back, and to give account.