APRIL 23, 2009: ACTS 5:34-42; JOHN 3:31-36


 

WHOEVER BELIEVES IN THE SON HAS LIFE ETERNAL.  Words are vehicles of meaning that have this in common with modern airplanes: they regularly carry a large amount of baggage that is hidden deep within. In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us reason to ponder his words carefully when he states quite explicitly of himself that “the One whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” The words of God are freighted with information deriving from that world where God is all in all.  One consequence is that inevitably they suggest more than they can clearly state; they serve as pointers to another realm, as well as containers of distinct messages. Rightly to understand the words of God then depends on a certain intuitive connaturality with divine truth even more than on human knowledge, as necessary as that is.

 

One of the affirmations that Jesus makes in his conversation with Nicodemus strikingly illustrates this principle. WHOEVER BELIEVES IN THE SON HAS LIFE ETERNAL.  The way this statement is understood depends on how fully other teaching of Jesus has been assimilated. We need to recall that John who wrote this phrase, had been meditating on our Lord’s life and teaching for many years since Jesus had risen from the dead. He had learned by experience that Christ continued to be active in his Church, present through his words and sacraments. He had come to the realization that already those who put their faith in the Lord and put their trust in him were, in fact, living a hidden life that derives from the Spirit of God. Already, by virtue of the faith that they lived by, such believers are united with God, and so even now share in his life. Though still in this world of time such persons already belong to another sphere of existence. Stated in another way, they have eternal life.

 

John does not have Jesus qualify this teaching by adding some such qualifier as “in hope”, nor does he have Jesus say “they have the promise of eternal life”- true as this is. The point he makes here, however, is that even now, while living in this world of time, the life they live by is God’s own and so is eternal life. The implications of this teaching are vast indeed and are left unstated in our text. In fact, from the very nature of the case what is implied by this truth cannot be adequately expressed by words; the reality to which this seemingly simple statement refers is properly speaking ineffable. “Ineffably” is a word derived from the Latin. St. Augustine employed it when speaking of God as creator (ineffabiliter artifex, “Enchiridion” 89). If what is proper to God cannot come to expression in human words, it is because God in His nature is transcendent, that is to say, He is beyond adequate conception and consequently no word, no image is able to state who and what He is.

 

What we celebrate at this Eucharist and during this Easter season of the liturgical year is the fact that God, in his love and wisdom, has found a way, nonetheless, to convey to us human creatures, not merely a vague knowledge as to His nature, but by the gift of His Only Son, another Self, as it were, He has made us participants of His own life. To entrust our self to the Son by faith is already to experience God Himself. This is what Jesus tells us today as we hear the words St. John recorded for our sake: WHOEVER BELIEVES IN THE SON HAS LIFE ETERNAL.  &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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