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'Who are you claiming to be?'

Thursday, March 29, 2007
Thursday 5 of Lent

Readings: Genesis 17: 3-9; Ps 104: 4-9. R) v. 8; John 8:51-59

While reading and praying over today’s gospel we are tempted to ask, what is it that so impedes the Jewish critics of Jesus from understanding his message? Why the apparently wilful misunderstanding of what he is trying to tell them? It seems to us that, even if they disbelieve Jesus’ statements of his common being with God, their method of argument represents a childish and deliberate misunderstanding of his words, ‘You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!’

Yet Jesus’ rebuke to them makes it clear to us that their failings are not the result of a particular obtuseness but, rather the result of the way in which all people can deceive themselves when faced with a frightening truth, ‘But I know him, and if I were to say: I do not know him, I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves’. God is doing a new thing in Jesus: the religion that is the bedrock of these peoples’ lives has become flesh and blood and is answering back with piercing challenges. The route that Jesus is offering is a new fidelity to God, based on faith that endures through the most surprising eventualities. Is it truly surprising to us that, presented with the path of uncertainty, the Jews in the gospel passage fall back on the empty comforts of ignorance and petty deceits?

The dangerous fidelity asked for by Jesus is just as frightening for those who call themselves Christians as it was for those whose meetings with Jesus we read about in the gospels. ‘I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death’. Anyone who attempts to hold firm faith in those words, while knowing a little of the desolation that surrounds the sudden absence of one called to God, understands that Jesus asks no small task of us. To live our belief in the resurrection is the labour of a lifetime, and a project that we do not undertake alone. If we reveal our fear, confess our sins, this faith is a work that can be wrought in us. The contribution that we bring is a truthful heart, open to the terror of mystery, not seeking the consolation of deliberate blindness.


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