Monday, April 3, 2017

"I AM"

Homily for April 4th, 2017: John 8:21-30.

          “Many came to believe in him,” we just heard. Others, however, did not. As he nears his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus speaks with increasing urgency. “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” That sentence makes sense only if we know the story of God calling Moses, already an old man, to return to Egypt and deliver his people from slavery to the Egyptians. Moses asks what he is to say to his people when they ask who has sent him. And God responds: ‘Tell them that I AM has sent you.’ So what Jesus is saying in the gospel we just heard is that only those who believe he is the divine Son of God will have their sins forgiven.

          The gospel readings for the last three Sundays have been giving reasons to believe in Jesus as God’s divine son. In the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration three weeks ago we saw the divine light of his divinity momentarily breaking through the veil of his humanity. Two weeks ago we heard about Jesus cleansing of the Temple and saying: “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up” – words which the hearers assumed referred to the Temple building. In reality, Jesus was speaking about the Temple of his body, and hence about the resurrection. Last Sunday we heard about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead – something that only God could do. .

          “Because he spoke this way,” today’s gospel tells us, “many came to believe in him.” In his book Jesus of Nazareth Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI writes that those who welcomed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the first Palm Sunday “were not the same crowd that later demanded his crucifixion” (p.8). That crowd consisted, Pope Benedict writes, of “the Temple aristocracy,” a small ruling clique who felt their power threatened by Jesus’ teaching and claims – and not even all of them, as we see in the case of Nicodemus, a member of the ruling caste, but secretly Jesus’ disciple (cf. op.cit. 185f).

“Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey,” Pope Benedict writes, “so the Church [sees] him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine.” Greeting him, we are encountering the One who made us; the One who upholds us at every moment of our lives; who is always close to us, even when we stray far from him; who loves us more than we can ever imagine; who is waiting for us at the end of life’s road, to welcome us into the place he has gone ahead to prepare for us; where we shall experience not just joy but ecstasy – for we shall see God face to face.