Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
(Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59)
The charismatic heretic of the fourth century Arius had the same problem which vexes the Jews in today’s gospel. If God is infinite – he argued – than he could not become incarnate in a singular subject. This, he claimed, would be like putting a mountain into a box. Therefore, he concluded, Jesus must have been created like all other beings and then raised to divine status by God’s indulgence. In the gospel reading the Jews critique Jesus as coming to a similar erroneous conclusion when he claims, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” In another words, according to the Jews, Jesus is identifying himself with the eternal “I AM” when he is obviously a creature born in time.
The mystery of the incarnation was enlightened by the genius of St. Athanasius, a contemporary of Arius. Athanasius taught that God is completely unknowable. We have glimpses of who God is through Jesus, but His nature is still beyond our understanding. If God were only infinite, then Arius would be right – there would be no box or man that could contain Him. But it is only because God who is far beyond human intelligence has revealed it that we can say He became human. Still how this happens is beyond human reckoning.
Athanasius gave us another proposition that is also beyond our comprehension. He said that God became human so that humans may become like God. Looking about us or in us, this seems impossible although the saints provide a glimmer of hope. The Easter mystery provided the grace for the saints to become holy. It will likewise help us to become like God.