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Gospel Reflection for March 30, 2023
Jesus said to the Jews:
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever keeps my word will never see death."
So 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?"
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."
So the Jews said to him,
"You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM."
So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.
The sheer impact of these words is likely lost on a modern audience. By stating, “I AM”, Jesus said plainly that He is God. To the Jews of His time, this was blasphemy. Under Mosaic Law, blasphemy was the ultimate crime and demanded a sentence of death. How lightly these words fall on our ears today!
Sure, as Christians, we believe in Jesus and profess Him to be God. But, do we really understand the gravity of our profession? Many in modern times simply believe that if Jesus existed as a historical person, He was just a very good man. However, as the venerable Fulton Sheen would remind us, if Jesus was merely a man who said profound and beautiful things, He was not a good man at all. If Jesus was merely a man, He was a blasphemer! If Jesus was merely a man, He was a very evil man. No matter how wise His words, if He was not the living God His claim to be God was not merely a grave sin in itself, but He led countless millions astray.
The idea of Jesus as a philosopher or prophet must be firmly rejected. Many over the centuries have taken Christ’s words as philosophy. They take the Sermon on the Mount to justify political causes such as socialism. They claim His message of helping the poor, for instance, justifies their cause. Yet, they reject the divinity of Christ. While quoting His words in one breath, they reject His teachings on other social matters in the next. They condemn as “Bible thumpers” those who uphold traditional Christian moral values and the teachings of the Church. It is the “cafeteria Christian” mentality of take what you like and reject as old fashioned and outdated what doesn’t fit your ideology.
Simply put, if Jesus is God that changes everything. The Word of God is eternal truth. It is unchanging and eternal. It cannot be accepted in part. To reject one portion is to reject the whole because to do so is to claim superiority to God. If we say that the Bible and the Church are wrong on marriage, abortion, homosexuality (etc), we claim a higher authority in deciding such matters. We set ourselves or our politics or philosophy up as our own god. We commit the very crime for which the Jews accused Jesus.
Consider carefully our profession that Jesus Christ is Lord and God. To believe it is a radical position. As He said, to be a Christian is divisive. The Christian cannot hold the comfortable middle ground but will be turned against friends and family and rejected by those who oppose Christ and His Church. While we must treat all with love and respect, to believe that Jesus is God means we must reject polite compromise and be constantly at odds with secular (an often even mainstream Christian) culture.
“A Man for All Seasons” tells the story of Saint Thomas More, who was executed for refusing to give up his Catholic beliefs and adopt Anglicanism. Although I cannot find the quote, in one version of the play his steadfast belief in Jesus and His Catholic Church was summed up nicely. His nephew asked him why he was in prison. More was one of the most prominent and successful men in England. His many friends urged him to simply assent to the king’s authority, even if he didn’t really mean it. He could save his life, be accepted in polite society and enjoy his wealth and success if only he would recognize the King of England as head of the church. He was told that to do so was his patriotic duty. His answer was, “The question is not why am I in here, but why are you out there?”
No, Jesus was not a very good man. He is God. That truth changes everything!