It is possible that contemplating the seemingly esoteric dialogue between Jesus and His interlocutors has little import for our living the Gospel, living lives of faith today. A patient opening to the text reveals much of today’s struggle of so many Christians and non-Christians alike.
Vs. 37,38= “I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill Me, because My word has no room among you. I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.”
Jesus is showing them respect by acknowledging that they are the Chosen People as descendants of Abraham, but also admonishes them because being close to Him, to what He brings them from the Father, they are in fact trapped in the pride of their own self-assurance.
v.39= They answered and said to Him, “Our father is Abraham.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham.”
Again, this stubborn self assertion and again Jesus tries to break through to their hearts placing a simple challenge before them, namely, to do Abraham’s works.
Abraham’s works were his life of faith and obedience to all God asked of him, thus Abraham did not presume he was saved by the fact of being chosen, rather that his salvation depended upon his free-will choice to believe and to obey, in a word to live as a man of faith: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age—and Sarah herself was sterile—for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. [Heb. 8: 8-11]
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. [Js. 2:14-17]
Vs. 40,41= “But now you are trying to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father!” So they said to Him, “We are not illegitimate. We have one Father, God.”
It is important to see again and again Jesus’ tirelessness, because His Sacred Heart burns with love for them, for us, Jesus is seeking to break through their/our stubborn arrogance that they/we might hear, and hearing see and seeing believe. Yet their response reveals constant resistance. Sometimes so is ours, which is why St. Paul gives us this word of the Lord: We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’ [Acts. 26:14]
Traditionally a goad is something, usually a long stick, used to prod oxen drawing ploughs, or other work animals. The goad St. Paul was kicking against was what the early Church he was persecuting was preaching, the truth about Jesus Christ.
When we feel goaded, we the Baptized, it is the merciful nudging of the Holy Spirit deep within our souls, our hearts, our consciences offering the grace of deeper metanoia, the grace to live more fully our baptismal vocation.
Here, in a sense, Jesus is goading His challengers with His words to wake up, to listen up, to open up.
Now Jesus responds with bluntness, a bluntness that conveys heartbreaking frustration at their stubbornness: vs. 42-47=Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on My own, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear My word. You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Can any of you charge Me with sin? If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.”
Jesus reveals once more He is the Father’s gift to them, to us. Warning them of their bondage to satan He shows them once more the path of freedom, the path to the Heart of the Father is Himself, the Son, and welcoming Jesus means belonging to God and hearing His word, and Jesus is the ultimate Word of God.
How frequently, perhaps even in conversation with people we know, certainly in public discourse on disputed questions, and not just in politics, do those with closed minds and hearts, to objective truth, respond as the Jewish leaders do here: The Jews answered and said to Him, “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and are possessed?” [v.48]
For a Jew to be called a Samaritan was, in its day, what in our day we would call a racist statement and adding that they accuse Jesus of being possessed only amplifies the arrogance of their closed minds and hearts.
Sadly, in our own day those who use personal insult against Christians who proclaim with word and witness, reveal a similar dangerous for their souls’ arrogance.
Jesus answered, “I am not possessed; I honour My Father, but you dishonour Me. I do not seek My own glory; there is one who seeks it and He is the one who judges. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps My word will never see death.” [vs. 49-51]
To dishonour Jesus is to dishonour the Father, for Jesus and the Father are one, and it is the Father who seeks His Son’s glory and indeed Jesus is glorified both by His death on the Cross and His Holy Resurrection. Here too, even though they are argue against Him, against His teaching, insulted Him, Jesus reaches out still assuring them if they keep His word they will have eternal life!
Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we are sure that You are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet You say, ‘Whoever keeps My word will never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do You make Yourself out to be?” [vs. 52, 53]
It is part of the twisted logic of those who pursue relentless argument simply to try and prove their own point that their very words of challenge actually are words which, inadvertently to be sure as that is not the speaker’s intent, open the door to more truth in the answer which will be given them.
Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is worth nothing; but it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ You do not know Him, but I know Him. And if I should say that I do not know Him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know Him and I keep His word. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. [vs.54-56]
It is almost as if the response comes from people on auto-pilot in their determination to best Jesus: So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old and You have seen Abraham?” [v.57]
Jesus’ reply solemnly reaffirms His Divinity, therefore that He is indeed the long awaited Messiah: Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” [v.58]
Enraged, as they tried to do with the Woman Jesus rescued and forgave at the start of chapter 8, so now they try to do to Jesus: So they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them and so passed by. [v.59]
The tragedy is, so locked in their arrogance, Jesus walks away from them, undoubtedly with love’s-pain for them burning in His Heart, for had they been humble, perhaps He would have stayed with them and given praise and thanks to the Father for and about them as He did in another context: At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. [Mt. 11:25]
© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph