AMEN, AMEN I TELL YOU BEFORE ABRAHAM EXISTED I AM. These words of our Lord bear a great weight of significance for us still today. They are a formal affirmation of his divinity and give us an assurance that he has the right to claim equality with the Father. That the Jews to whom he addressed them in the temple precincts understood them precisely in this sense is evident from their reaction. They considered his words to be blasphemy and sought to stone him to death as was prescribed by the law of Moses for such a crime. Our Lord could not fulfill his ministry in its full extent without risking his life, and he did not hesitate to do so on this occasion when the origin of his deeds and teaching were put into question. Our belief in his divinity is all the more precious to us for being revealed by him at such a high cost to himself. That he remained willing to carry out his purpose to make his Father known to us even when it meant his being rejected and confronted with deadly violence is another reason for our gratitude to him.
These considerations require to be attended to frequently so that we do not fall into a kind of spiritual torpor through over-familiarity with the fundamental beliefs of our faith. The reality behind our conviction that the one who saves us by his teaching and by his death is the very Son of God himself, equal to the Father, sharing with Him the life of the same Spirit is intended to be a source of never-ending awe and gratitude. In fact, it is this truth that introduces us into the mystery of the Trinity that will be our inexhaustible fountain of life and joy for all eternity.
For a man to demand acceptance of so exalted a claim as Jesus here makes is indeed an astounding, seemingly outrageous affront to common sense. Considered apart from our Lord's life and miracles it is not surprising that he was thought to be under the influence of a higher power that misled him by men who themselves were trained in the religious traditions of God's prophet, Moses, and formed by a tradition dating from Abraham their ancestor. But the very point Jesus makes here is that he is not merely a man: he is the only begotten Son of the eternal Father and his life and works are an adequate proof of his origins.
What was required of these men that they might see behind surface appearances to the hidden realities that alone explain the true sense of our Lord's mission and person? This
question is one that we ourselves are inevitably confronted with from time to time when our faith is tested one way or another; when to all appearances, we are asked to believe that in a given circumstance we are dealing with the very person of God even when events suggest such a claim is presumptuous, a mockery of our intelligence. From other passages in the Gospel of John we can see that a radical faith in the power and wisdom of God that can do all things, and which is present and operating in Christ, is fundamental. Such a faith must be formative of our deepest attitudes and orient our most personal dispositions in order to be receptive to the revelation he makes in the person of the Word made flesh. We can have such a faith only if we turn with our whole heart to the Spirit who dwells within us; we will be misled by appearances if we stop at the surface of things. This faith must become so firmly rooted within us that we are truly free from lesser but more obvious influences. We will go astray if we go along with the crowd, or seek recognition from the many, or seek the proof of our worth in worldly success. We must learn to penetrate the surface of all manners of situations and relations and to see where they are intended to be fitted in God's plan. Such insight is the fruit of earnest prayer and meditation that detaches us from the immediate satisfactions sensible things offer us. By contemplation and such detachment our hearts become anchored in God. As we become more established in Him we are increasingly able to recognize Him wherever He manifests Himself to us. At this altar in a special way the Lord Jesus reveals to us in depth what it means that He is sent by the Father to bring us the good news that we are redeemed and already belong to Him who has paid for us with his life's blood. May we discover in this Eucharist that it is His love that has made us His own, and that as we receive him we accept him as our God and offer him the love of our whole being.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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