Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM."


Homily for April 6th, 2017: John 8:51-59.

          “Whoever keeps my word will never see death,” Jesus says. The response to this astonishing statement is fully understandable. ‘We always suspected you were crazy – now we know it.’ In the dialogue which follows Jesus’ critics press home the absurdity of what Jesus has just said. Abraham died. All the prophets died. Who are you claiming to be?

          Jesus is about to tell them that he is without beginning or end. There was never a time when he was not. There will never come a time he will cease to be. Because he is not only human but also divine, he stands outside time. Since he knows, however, that this will seem to his hearers like boasting, he says: “If I glorify myself my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me.”

          The exchange between Jesus and his critics culminates in the most astonishing statement of all, Jesus words: “Before Abraham was I AM.” What clearer statement could we have of Jesus’ claim to stand outside of time? As we saw two days ago, God had given the divine name I AM to Moses as the answer to his question about how to identify the One who was sending him back to Egypt to liberate his people. Tell them, God said, that I AM sent you.

          For Jesus’ hearers his appropriation of the sacred name of God was not merely astonishing. It was blasphemous. That is why the hearers take up rocks to throw at Jesus. The were doing what was commanded in Leviticus: “He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him” (24:16). 

          The gospel’s final line seems like an anti-climax: “Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.” In reality, it is no anti-climax. It shows that Jesus is still in charge. His hour had not yet come. When it did, he would lay down his life not under compulsion, but willingly – for us.