Thursday of Week 5 of Lent – Gospel

Commentary on John 8:51-59

Jesus continues to challenge the Jews about his identity, and they continue to misunderstand the real meaning of what he says.

Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.

This they can only understand in a literal sense.

But they do see the implication of the words that Jesus is claiming to be more than Abraham or any of the prophets. And they ask:

Who do you claim to be?

This was the same question they asked of John the Baptist (John 1:22), who gave a very different answer.

Jesus makes it perfectly clear to them by talking of his “Father” and then saying that the Father is the one they call “our God”. But he continues by saying that they do not know the Father, although they may think they do. And they do not know the Father because they do not know Jesus. Jesus, however, knows him and keeps his word. Then comes the supreme provocation:

Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.

This could be a reference to the joy following the unexpected birth of Isaac, when the promise was made to Abraham that his seed would be:

…as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore… (Gen 22:17)

But this angered the Pharisees and they retorted:

You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?

Jesus then makes the ultimate claim:

Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.

Again we have Jesus using the term “I AM” of himself. He unequivocally identifies himself with Yahweh. The Pharisees are horrified by what they regard as terrible blasphemy. The verb “was” in the passage is, in some translations, expressed as ‘came to be’, and is used for all that is created, while ‘I AM’ is used only of the Word, co-eternal with the Father-God.

The Pharisees then:

…picked up stones to throw at him…

But they were not able actually to carry out their plan to kill him because his “time” had not yet come. Then come words of prophetic significance:

Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple…

It is a striking summary of Jesus’ role.

Jesus “hid himself” in his humanity. The Godhead in Jesus, which he has just spoken about, was largely concealed (except to those with the eyes of faith). St Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks of the divinity being hidden during the terrible hours of the Passion. St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians speaks of Jesus “emptying” himself and taking the form of a slave.

And “he went out of the Temple” – when Jesus died on the cross, the veil guarding the Holy of Holies in the Temple split open, revealing the sacred inner sanctuary to the world. God was no longer there; he had left the Temple. And he now dwells in a new Temple, no longer a building, but a people, the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ.

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