Reflection for April 2
Readings: Gen 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59
For the second time this week we are given a reading in which Jesus tells the Jews He is “I AM.” As mentioned the other day, I AM is the Holy Name of God. This is a word the Jewish people never spoke because of the Second Commandment. The possibility exists, they understood, of using the Lord’s Holy Name with even the slightest irreverence, so they chose never to use His Name at all. For this reason, every time YHWH is written in the Hebrew Scriptures, they would pronounce the word Adonai, which means “Lord.”
It is interesting to note that the people would make reference to God by using the beginning part of His Holy Name. For instance, the word we do not use during Lent, Alleluia; the ia ending is the first syllable in God’s Name. The word means “praise the Lord.” Even to this day you will see this same thing in names. For instance, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu; the yahu is the first two syllables of God’s Holy Name.
Back to the point at hand. Because the people would never use God’s Name, it must have been quite a shock for them when our Lord used God’s Name. Even more, what a shock that He was applying it to Himself. Recall that it took centuries for the Jewish people to eradicate the worship of the various false gods who were a constant temptation to them. They knew there was only one God, the God Who spoke to Abram and, as we see in the first reading, changed the Patriarch’s name to Abraham.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the people that Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’s day. When the people counter with the fact that Jesus was not yet fifty years old, so there was no way He could have seen Abraham, Jesus told them “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” First of all, note that Jesus did not say that He had seen Abraham, but that Abraham had seen our Lord’s day. God had made clear to Abraham not only that he would be the father of many nations and that kings would stem from him, as we read in the first reading, but it was also clear that the Messiah would be among the children of Abraham. So, God showed this to Abraham and told Abraham that all nations would be blessed in him (Gen 22:18). This took place after the test in which Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac; of course, that entire scene is a foreshadowing of the Passion of our Lord.
Even though the people presented things backwards from what Jesus had said, our Lord uses their mistake to speak the truth of Who He is. Not only did He see Abraham, although He was not yet fifty years old, but He was alive “before Abraham came to be.” For the Jewish people, Abraham is the one to whom they look at their Patriarch and the father of their faith. For Jesus to say He existed before Abraham, suggests that He is greater than Abraham. To call Himself “I AM” says He is the One Who spoke to Abraham and the One to Whom Abraham offered sacrifice through the priesthood of Melchizedek.
The Jewish people who heard these words of our Lord understood immediately what Jesus meant. They picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus slipped away to hid in the Temple. Jesus told them plainly, in a way no Jewish person could have mistaken, that He is God. He is not claiming that He became a god or that He is making Himself equal with God; He is stating unequivocally, that He is God. Even the statement that He existed before Abraham came to be tells the people that He is eternal. It could be understood in a material way, that is, that He existed before Abraham was conceived in his mother’s womb. But this would not make sense, as the people recognize, because in His human nature, Jesus was not yet fifty years old.
The only thing that makes sense, then, is that Jesus existed before Abraham came into the mind of God. Since God knows everything in one thought, this can only mean that Jesus is eternal. He has existence prior to anything else and His existence will have no end. In His love for us, He took our human nature to Himself so that He would be able to suffer and die. He took out human nature because we have trouble believing that God really loves us, so He proved His love in a way that should remove all doubts.
The Church gives us these readings right before entering into Holy Week so that we can have clear in our mind that everything that we will be commemorating in the next week and a half all happened to God. It is easy, in this next week to focus on the humanity of Christ, which we must do, but it is also easy to block the divinity of Christ from our minds as we walk through the events of the Passion. The Church wants to bring the divinity into focus for us so that we remember that the suffering and death of Jesus was not just an injustice that happened to a man 2000 years ago; the suffer and death of Jesus was done for us. We have to look, not at the intention of the human persons involved, but at the intention of Jesus. He is God, and everything He did He did out of love for His Father and out of love for us. So, keep clearly in mind that He is “I AM,” and everything He is doing is for you!