July 25 was a life-changing day for Jack London. On that day in 1897 he set off for the Klondike Gold Rush. Gold had been found a year earlier, but it took some time for news to reach the United States. Almost as soon as it did, London and 100,000 other men – and, I assume, some women – dropped everything and headed north.
It was a life-changing day for London not because he acquired any gold as a result. What he mainly acquired was scurvy so bad he needed to return home for medical attention. But though he never made any money in the rush for gold, he made a name for himself as a writer, turning his Klondike adventures into several short stories, one of which became his novel, The Call of the Wild. It made him suddenly famous and established his career as a writer.
I’ve never joined a gold rush, but I have been on my own kind of treasure hunt. And, like it did for Jack London, my hunt has included false starts, failures, and some unexpectedly good results. After graduating from college I set off on a career search that led to several dead ends and redirections: skip tracer for a collection agency; EMT for an ambulance company; radio announcer and ad salesman; commercial printing agent; surgical technician; graduate student in art history; designer and producer of books; mediator; parish pastor.
Along the way, the treasure I was seeking – the perfect job, the ample salary – always eluded me. But in the process I discovered another treasure, one that almost seemed to be seeking me. It’s one I would give my life to acquire completely, like a priceless pearl I’d sell everything else to own (Matt. 13:45). “Real and eternal life,” is the way Jesus described that treasure, “more and better life than [you] ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message).
When he wanted to describe the reign of God and how to obtain it, Jesus used parables – holy riddles – about the most common things: farmers and fields, women baking bread, merchants buying and selling things, fishermen sorting fish. When he wanted to describe the “real and eternal life” we’re seeking, Jesus didn’t describe an exotic, distant place that we need a special map to find. He described the ordinary people, places, and activities of our daily lives.
How would he describe it today? It’s like the owner of DeBeers finding the perfect diamond and selling a billion-dollar empire to have it. It’s like an overworked executive, tired of the paperwork and competitive hassle, selling home and Lexus and finding happiness building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Haiti. It’s like an alcoholic waking up with a clear head, free to choose a new and different life. The real and eternal life Jesus described is right under your nose.
In 1925, William Jennings Bryan was an associate prosecutor in the trial of school teacher John Scopes. Scopes had taught the theory of evolution in defiance of a state law prohibiting such teaching. The defense attorney was Clarence Darrow. Bryan won what became known as “The Monkey Trial,” and Scopes was fined $100.
But Darrow’s merciless cross-examination humiliated Bryan and dealt a fierce blow to fundamentalism. Some say the trial broke the heart of William Jennings Bryan, and when he died several days after the trial ended, Darrow said of him, “A giant once lived in that body. But the man got lost, lost because he was looking for God too high up and too far away.”
Jesus corrected the notion of a God who is too high up and too far away. He spoke of a down-to-earth God indistinguishable from you and me, indistinguishable from the poorest of the poor. Whenever Jesus used the term “kingdom of God,” you can substitute the phrase “more and better life than you ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message), and you’ll understand what he meant.
And he said that such life was no longer reserved for some time in the distant future – after death, or at the end of the millennium; it’s here and now (Luke 14:15-24). It’s spread out upon the earth, and we simply don’t see it (Gospel of Thomas 113). When Jesus began his public ministry by saying, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15), he meant it. It’s right under our noses. We don’t have to search high and low, far and wide to find it; we have only to wake up and open our eyes.
There’s a story about a little fish who swam up to a big fish and said, “Excuse me. You’re older and wiser than I. Can you tell me where to find this thing they call ‘the Ocean’?” The big fish smiled and said, “Oh, the ocean is what you’re swimming in right now.” “You mean this,” the little fish asked? “This is only water. I’m looking for the Ocean.” And he swam off to continue his search.
We’re surrounded with peace, joy, happiness, love. We’re surrounded with all the stuff of real and eternal life. We’re surrounded with more and better life than we ever dreamed of, but most of us have no idea what we’re living in.