Jesus and Abraham
William P. Tuck in his sermon, “We All Need Roots,” tells of a man who stepped onto the platform at an American Legion Convention. As he looked over the large crowd, he asked: “Can anybody tell me who I am?” He had lost his memory, with no record of his past or his identity. His desperate appeal was: “Does anybody know who I am?”
Jesus’ identity is one of the themes today’s gospel reading talks about. It is because in this chapter eighth alone of St. John’s gospel, Jesus claims four major things about Himself. First, He claims to be the light of the world (v.12). Second, He claims that those who accept His teaching are set free (vv.31-32). Third, He promises that anyone who keeps His word will never die (v. 51). Fourth, He takes on the divine name I AM and states that He is older than Abraham (v.58). In this last claim He says: “Before Abraham came to be, I Am.” By saying ‘I Am,’ Jesus refers to the proper name of God as “Yahweh” which in Hebrew it means the same, “I Am who Am” and a pious Jew in his life would not mention this name. This is the name God identifies Himself to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus is applying the name ‘Yahweh’ to Himself and this shows a clearest assertion of His divine nature. Of course this claim is the supreme and highest claim for by this claim Jesus says that He is of divine origin and that He is of equal with God. His listeners understand what He tries to say perfectly well but they do not accept this claim because it is a blasphemy. Its penalty is death by stoning (Lev 24:16).
But for us it is true that Christ is God and therefore He has the right to promise to us that whoever keeps His word will never see death. Only God can make such a bold promise and then fulfil it. And so I invite you to reflect on this promise of Jesus and apply this into our lives:
First, He says: “Whoever keeps my words will never see death.” This is a paradoxical statement but ‘never seeing death’ seems to be very attractive to us because we are doing so much like: exercise, eating right, annual checkups and all that is good in order to avoid hastening our physical death. But the Lord is referring more to death in the spiritual realm than the bodily. And St. Paul gives a good explanation of what this statement meant to be. St. Paul says that we are ‘always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body…. Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day, (2Cor 4:10, 16).
I’m sure many of us had seen the late Pope John Paul II in the last years of his life. His body grew older and frail but his spirit was so strong. He has kept the word of Christ faithfully so that his example, his words, his eyes and his very person communicate God’s life to us.
Lastly, let us keep His words and be faithful to Him because our God is a God and He cannot tell a lie. Someone said that Jesus is one of three things: lunatic, liar or Lord because of what He claims; even some even do not accept that Jesus is God and is the Son of God but consider Him only as a great man or the greatest man who ever lived, they are irrational. If they say such things, on the other hand, we say that He is Lord and God because He cannot tell a lie of what He claims. That is why, with all due respect for their opinion, the Muslims as well as the sect, Iglesia ni Cristo, that follows the Arian teaching that Jesus is only a very special man, cannot really be considered, ‘Christians.’
Are we keeping His word? It is because every step along the path of spiritual growth is a step towards preserving and enriching the divine life He has given us.