Friday, March 26, 2010

I Tell You Most Solemnly: Before Abraham Came To Be, I AM!

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Jeremiah 20:10-13
I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
who probe mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!
The covenant made between Abraham and God is both sealed and renewed in Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of chapter 17 of Genesis we are told that Yahweh appeared to Abram, now 99 years old, and identified himself as: “I am El Shaddai.” ‘El Shaddai’ was an ancient divine name of the patriarchal period, preserved mainly in the ‘Priestly’ tradition and rarely used outside the Pentateuch (except in Job). The usual translation ‘Almighty God’ is inaccurate; ‘Mountain God’ is the probable meaning.

Yahweh, El Shaddai now promises to make a covenant with Abram and to pledge him a long line of descendants. Abram bows down in deep adoration.

Abram is to become the father of many nations and because of that his name is to be changed from Abram to Abraham. We need to remember that, for the ancients, a name did not merely indicate a person or thing, rather it made a thing what it was, and a change of name meant a change of destiny. Abram and Abraham, it seems, are in fact just two dialectical forms of the same name whose meaning is ‘He is great by reason of his father, he is of noble descent’.

On his side, God makes a solemn commitment to Abraham and to all his descendants in perpetuity to be their God. “I shall make you into nations and your issue will be kings.” There will indeed be a long line of kings - and a very mixed bunch they are. But, no matter how corrupt they might be, the promises made to Abraham continued to be fulfilled. Paul, writing to the Romans, will speak of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise which, by that time, had been so clearly fulfilled.

It is a pledge made forever: “I shall maintain my covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, as a covenant in perpetuity to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Yahweh further promises to give them the whole land of Canaan to own in perpetuity. A pledge which Christians, unlike some Jews, would now read in a less than literal way.

Finally, Abraham and his descendants are to ratify this covenant on their part are to keep the covenant by their total allegiance to their one and only God.

Abraham, as the Gospel indicates, is regarded as the father of all God’s people. As Matthew’s genealogy indicates, he is the ancestor of Jesus and in Jesus we find the complete fulfilment of the promises made long ago. We read in today’s Gospel: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to think that he would see my Day: he saw it and was glad.” And through Jesus, people everywhere become in a special way children of God.

Let us rejoice in having God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother. We do so by the way we live our lives.
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Psalm 18
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
The breakers of death surged round about me,
the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
the snares of death overtook me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
In my distress I called upon the LORD
and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
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John 10:31-42
The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them,
“I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, "You are gods"‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.

He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized,
and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.
Jesus continues to challenge the Jews about his identity. They continue to misunderstand the real meaning of what he says. “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 make yourself out 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 your father rejoiced to 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 sands on the seashore and as the stars in the sky - Gen 17:7; 21:6)

To which the shocked Pharisees retort: “You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham?” only to have Jesus make the ultimate claim: “I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham ever came to be, 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 term ‘came to be’ is used for all that is created, while ‘I AM’ is used only of the Word, co-eternal with the Father-God.

“They took up stones to throw at him…” 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 left 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 left the Temple”. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil guarding the Holy of Holies in the Temple split right 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, not now a building but a people, the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ.

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