A bowl of cherries?

Photo by Apolonia. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by Apolonia. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Where did we get the saying, “Life is just a bowl of cherries”? Some attribute it to the 1931 Broadway tune of the same name. We may use the phrase optimistically, meaning, “Life is great!” — or sarcastically, to suggest exactly the opposite. But the song emphasizes how fleeting life is, and suggests that we lighten up on our striving and worrying:

People are queer
They’re always crowing, scrambling and rushing about
Why don’t they stop someday,
Address themselves this way:
“Why are we here? Where are we going?”
It’s time that we found out
We’re not here to stay
We’re on a short holiday.

Life is just a bowl of cherries
Don’t take it serious, it’s too mysterious
You work, you save, you worry so
But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go
So keep repeating, “It’s the berries”
The strongest oak must fall
The sweet things in life to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you’ve never owned?
Life is just a bowl of cherries
So live and laugh at it all.

No one who reads the New Testament realistically could think that the Christian life is just a bowl of cherries in the naively optimistic sense. Indeed, as we saw in the previous post, Paul’s description of the life of an apostle sounds more like the pits: “afflicted… perplexed… persecuted… struck down” (2 Cor 4:8-9, NRSV).

But Paul might agree with the song in one respect: life as we know it, including its troubles, is only temporary (cf. 2 Cor 4:17). And he has an answer for the “Why are we here?” question:

We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Cor 4:10-12, CEB)

Literally, Paul says that he carries the “dying” of Jesus: a life of dying to one’s self, of sacrifice, service, and suffering. But why? So that the power of God (vs. 7) and the resurrection life of Jesus can be on display. Paul sees himself as more than just following Jesus’ lead; through his suffering and endurance, the very life of Jesus is embodied in his “mortal flesh.”

Not that everyone is called to be an apostle. When Paul says that “death is at work in us, but life is at work in you,” the last word comes as a bit of a surprise. Given what he’s already said, we’d expect him to say, “but life is also at work in us.” But this may be his way of addressing the disparity between his suffering and theirs; here and in other places (e.g., 2 Cor 1:6), Paul seems to view his own apostolic woes as being suffered on behalf of the church, following the pattern of the passion of Jesus.

Apostles or no, we are all called to reveal the life of Jesus in us. And the irony is that this may happen best when life is anything but a bowl of cherries.