MARCH 9, 2005- HOMILY: JOHN 5: 17-30

JESUS WAS SPEAKING OF GOD AS HIS OWN FATHER, THEREBY MAKING HIMSELF EQUAL TO GOD. I believe this statement in St John’s Gospel is among the most significant in the whole of Scripture. Although there are a few other passages where this same truth is affirmed more or less directly, yet nowhere else is the divinity of Jesus stated so explicitly or in a manner that anticipates the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. that Christ Jesus is truly homoousios, of the same substance as the Father. This is the fundamental dogma of our Christian faith; all the rest depends on this belief. Only after this teaching was grasped in its major implications did it become clear that the One true and living God is a Trinity of Persons equal in substance, indeed, sharing the one, same divine substance.

The decisive word in this utterance in the original Greek text of the Gospel is ‘isos’. In the text we have just heard it is translated ‘equal’: Jesus made himself ‘equal to God’. This word also means "same’, so that used absolutely as it is here, equal means that Jesus made himself the same as God. Jesus presented himself as having equal power and authority as God who is above the Law of the Sabbath. The obvious sense then is that Jesus is of the same substance as God, and so is one with the Father. That the Jews interpreted him as claiming rights and powers that belong to God alone as is evident from their reaction: they judged him to be guilty of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. In Rabbinic tradition it is a rebellious son who makes himself equal to his father. To make it clear that this view does not apply to his acts and claims, he affirms that he acts only in union with the Father’s will, carrying out the mission for which he is sent.

The Lord then goes on to make further claims that force his hearers to a decision of faith or rejection. In stating that "As the Father raises the dead and gives life so also the Son gives life to those whom he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all should honor the Son as they honor the Father." These are bold declarations of quality with God that challenge all who hear them. For, as the Jews correctly understood, to God alone is the power to raise the dead, give life as He wills and to judge. The prophets had, on occasion, exercised such powers but only in God’s name. Jesus claims them as his own, as integral with his person and at the heart of his mission. And so it was that, as John observes, the Jews saw these claims to mean that Jesus claimed equality with God.

The Fathers of the Church fashioned their theology and spiritual doctrine upon this central truth: In Jesus, God himself became one of us without ceasing to remain who and what He is in Himself. St Gregory of Nazianzan summed up matters when he wrote in a letter that ‘the unassumed is the unhealed, only that which is united with God is saved’ (Ep 101.32). This work of salvation was entrusted, not to an angel, not to some holy prophet or man of God, but to one of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Son of the Eternal Father. It was this conviction that gave strength and confidence to the apostles, the martyrs and Fathers who preserved the true faith by rightly interpreting and elaborating this central truth of revelation.

This belief it is that fuels devotion to the Eucharist and to the Catholic Church that understands itself to be witness to Christ, the true Son of the Living God.. Not only does the Lord heal us by means of his sacraments, he sanctifies us so that we might be made partakers of his divinity. He has the power to undertake this great work because He is truly God as well as truly man. Athanasius put the matter strikingly as he worked out his theology of the Incarnation. "He became man so that we might be made into God (De Incarnatione 54.3 PG 11:517A)." Who knows what this might mean for us? This work of our being made in all truth "children of God, members of his intimate household" is what we celebrate and put into effect in this Eucharist. For He whom we offer and receive is in all truth the Son of God, equal to the Father and made one with us that we might be one with Him. May we make it the chief labor of our life to fulfill the promise contained in this mystery of divine love in which each of us has a share.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

Return to Index.

Go to Archive.