APRIL 7, 2005, HOMILY: JOHN 3:31-36

THE FATHER LOVES THE SON AND HAS GIVEN EVERYTHING OVER TO HIM. WHOEVER BELIEVES IN THE SON HAS LIFE ETERNAL. These words of St. John reflect the author=s many years of faith-filled reflection on the person of Christ and his ministry. He had come to understand the whole of the Lord=s life from within, as seen with the eyes of the Spirit. It had been some fifty years and more since Jesus had ascended to the Father when John was led to compose his version of the Gospel revealed by Jesus. So convinced was he that this Jesus was more than a prophet and law-giver, that he is, in fact, one with the Father that he came to view all of the Lord=s earthly existence in this divine light; that is to say, he grasped that there is a divine significance to his words and deeds precisely because his person comes directly from God. Accordingly, he sought to inculcate this same belief in those for whom he wrote. He states this explicitly as he closes his narrative:A these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing may have eternal life in his name.@ (20:31) He prefaced his account of the Lord=s ministry with the still more explicit declaration: AIn the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (1:1, 14). In the words of today=s Gospel passage he not only states this belief but adds, in striking terms, the implications of faith in this truth: THE FATHER LOVES THE SON AND HAS GIVEN EVERYTHING OVER TO HIM. WHOEVER BELIEVES IN THE SON HAS LIFE ETERNAL.

With this affirmation John sets forth a second basic conviction that came to dominate his way of understanding the meaning of the appearance among us of this man who is more than man: his very existence is the presence of the active love of the Father. THE FATHER LOVES THE SON AND HAS GIVEN EVERYTHING OVER TO HIM. Earlier in this same chapter of his Gospel this wondrous realization leads John to make one of the most reassuring affirmations found in Scripture: AFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life(3:15).@ Now he develops this truth by indicating that it is by faith in the Son that the fruit of this love, eternal life, is given to us.

 

Earlier, St. Paul had affirmed the same conviction in a brief formula that became the basis of the Church=s teaching on justification and grace: >it is by grace you have been saved through faith= (Eph 2: 8) Both Paul and John considered that through faith in the Lord Jesus we already possess the gifts of salvation, eternal life in the Spirit. John=s Gospel intends to provide witness as to how this came about and some specific indications of its implications for our present life on earth. He states only in general terms what this eternal life itself implies in such words as AThis is eternal life, to know you, Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent@(17:3).

Our Fathers in the faith took this teaching to heart and sought to be guided by it in their daily life, in their writings and teaching. Bishops such as Basil, Gregory of Nazianzan and Augustine gave much thought and energy to working out a program of life that favored attaining to this living and loving knowledge of God the Father and His Son, Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. The monks who became theologians applied and developed further this teaching as they constructed a monastic spirituality that we have inherited. St Maximus the Confessor, to name one whom St Bernard learned from, defined theology as personal knowledge of God by experience. In his Commentary on the Our Father he states that it is Jesus who teaches us this theology precisely because he himself is the Word among us. He puts it this way: >The Word of God made flesh teaches theology as showing in Himself the Father and the Holy Spirit. For the whole Father and the whole Spirit, though not themselves made flesh, are, in a perfect manner, substantially in the whole Son made flesh perfectly." (PG 90:876C) This is the secret made known to us in Jesus: to know Him is to know the Father in the Holy Spirit. In the measure we possess this knowledge and live from it day by day, we already possess, in essence, the love that is eternal life. It is this love and this life we celebrate at our Eucharist this morning. May we ever prove faithful to it until we come to its fullness in the presence of the Father.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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