MARCH 14, 2008: FRIDAY 5TH WEEK OF LENT: JOHN 10:31-42
REALIZE WHAT IT MEANS THAT THE FATHER IS IN ME AND I IN HIM. These words of Jesus come to our attention us in the liturgy today as we are about to enter upon Holy Week. The exchange our Lord has with a hostile group of critics claiming to represent the law of God prepares us for the coming passion and death of Jesus by displaying the aggressively stubborn refusal to acknowledge the divine source of his manifest powers, exercised as they were in the service of merciful healings.
Clearly, the high point of this scene, however, is not the hostile reaction of unbelieving religious leaders, but rather the exalted claim our Lord makes in asserting he and the Father so united that they dwell within one another. His audience correctly understand the significance of our Lord’s words and behavior: “You who are only a man are making yourself God.” This exchange is typical of the irony characteristic of John’s Gospel: in the opening page of his account he had declared expressly that the Word who is God became flesh and dwelt among us as God made man. Accordingly, the critics are right in their interpretation of Jesus’ claim, but miss the whole significance of his deeds and person by failing to recognize his true identity is precisely divine. He is, in all truth equal to the Father.
Recognition and acceptance of this true identity of Jesus is essential to the right understanding and interpretation of the events of Holy Week and the Paschal mystery that culminates with the resurrection. The one who undergoes the sufferings and humiliations of the passion is no one less than the Word of God, one with the Father in his divine nature, and at one with him in his humanity. This truth lends a distinctive significance to all that the Lord says and experiences, above all those events that take place these coming days. He alone is capable of effecting a wholly new relation of the human race with the Father from whom we were alienated by sin. He has received the mission to effect our reconciliation, but the friendship between the Creator and his creatures that results from this re-establishment of loving relations is possible only at a great price. For God’s holiness requires a purity of its participants that is sufficiently worthy of his immense dignity. The Son of God alone possesses such worth as effectively matches that of the Father, and consequently he alone can adequately atone for the indignity of sin directed at his person.
This perspective is what gives the passion and death of Jesus its full significance. His trials are not forced upon him, as one overwhelmed by the power of enemies; on the contrary, rather than ask for divine aid so as to avoid the agony and anguish he knew was imminent, he freely chose actively to obey the will of his Father. In doing so he completed the mission of reconciliation for which he was sent. Saint John, anticipating the events of the coming Passion, had already in the early pages of his Gospel account explained the divine motive at its deeper level, that is the ultimate significance of the Father’s plan and the Son’s willing compliance. He tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not be condemned but may have life eternal (3:15–16).” Redemptive love entails self-denial and even sacrifice. We cannot grasp the meaning of life as a whole without revising our concept of love in light of Jesus’ life and death. This understanding leads us to model our own acts and dispositions on his full adherence to the will of his Father. Loving in this manner we are transformed so as to be in truth children of God, united with the Father in his beloved Son.&
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger