Reflection on the Daily Readings for 4/02/09 by Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM
Scripture: Thurs of 5 week in Lent. Genesis 17:3-9. Psalm 105:4-5.6-7.8-9.
John 8:51-59. Lectionary # 255:
Scripture is described as a cutting sword. Mary, Jesus’ mother also
experienced its effect through the words of Simeon which would be verified
in the years that followed. Today’s Scripture passage from John
demonstrates the great breach between Christians and Jews during the time
that this Gospel was finished; this was some 60 years after the death of
Jesus. Both synagogue and church are now definitely separated when the
final words of the Fourth Gospel were redacted.
The dialogue recorded in chapter eight is one of the most polemical
and difficult ones to understand today in our dialogue with the Jewish
people. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has made some progress in
understanding our fellow brothers and sisters in the Jewish religion. We
have however often failed in these past fifty years despite the encouraging
progress first seen after Vatican II. One of our most important areas of
concern is the Holy Week Liturgy which in its Latin form does not conform
to the spirit of Vatican II. Moreover, both on the hierarchical and local
levels there have been some errors and faults in our dialogue with the
Jewish people. We need to be aware and sensitive to the issues that still
separate us and also make amends for any of our personal anti-semitic
sentiments–often subconsiously hidden even from ourselves and our
Jesus’ words are part of the reason why we have taken different roads
toward God since the time of John’s Gospel and even before as we see in the
Synoptics and the Acts of the Apostles as well as in the letters and
epistles. Today Jesus says, “I solemnly declare it: Before Abraham came to
be I AM.” This is a direct assertion for the second time in chapter eight
where Jesus identifies himself completely with the Father and demonstrates
this through the use of the sacred Name of God. Jewish people never
pronounce the sacred name YAHWEH which is equivalent to what Jesus was
saying about who he is. This Name had been revealed to Moses in the event
of the burning bush where God tells him that “I am who I am.” Abraham too
had in one of the traditions of Genesis called upon the Name of God
(Yahweh). In listening to Jesus say this, the ones who heard this felt it
sharply as the sword of blasphemy. Jesus was making himself God. For John
and for us today we do believe that Jesus is the Son of God and in our
doctrine of the Trinity we believe him to be equal to the Father Creator
and to the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier. Though God has many attributes both
in Judaism and Islam there is never the teaching that God is three Persons
in one Godhead. Actually we Christians know this through the gift of our
faith and only those who believe in the divinity of Christ can call
themselves Christians. That is where the roads of the three great
religions branch into three distinct paths to praise, honor and worship God
in our respective religions.
The polemic has reached its climax in chapter eight of John.
Preachers need to be aware of the history behind this and see it in the
light of the dialogues taking place today among us, including the Muslims.
Thus the word triologue is used today whenever all three dispensations are
at table with one another looking at issues, concerns, and teachings
peculiar to each of these religions.
We Christians see the aftermath of the sword of sorrow that separates
us in the hatred that follows in the succeeding centuries after Jesus. We
have been sinful in the Crusades, in the Holocaust and in the rampant
anti-semitism of the more recent decades. Neo-Nazis are still among us.
These violent years and actions need to be atoned for and we must never
allow this to happen again. Prayers, fasting, and firm purpose of
amendment in this domain of sin are still necessary if the world is ever to
be at peace and come to a unity amidst diversity. This is our prayer during
this most solemn time of year and especially next week during the Triduum
of Holy Days, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil Saturday. Amen.