Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
(Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59)
Much of the Gospel of John makes most sense when read as representing the struggle between Christians and Jews in the latter part of first century Palestine. Christians by then have been ejected from Jewish synagogues because they have accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus, of course, takes their role in the gospel, and “the Jews” represent their persecutors.
In today’s passage Jesus expresses the Christian belief in eternal life for those who believe in him. This belief has been given substantial basis in his resurrection. But the Jews do not accept the fact and claim that Jesus – really Christians – is possessed. Their argument is that Jesus is surely no greater than Abraham who died. But Christians see the prophecy which God made to Abraham in today’s first reading fulfilled in Jesus. They find the success of Christianity in spreading throughout the known world as evidence that Abraham has come to be “the father of a host of nations.” The heated debate grows hotter as Jesus hints at his divinity by saying of himself, “I AM,” which is code for God. It is unlikely that he ever made this claim, but Christians have come to know him in this way after the resurrection. For Jews anyone who claims to be God is committing blasphemy and merits death by stoning.
Although once in a while we see Christians, not Jews, wanting to take up the old debate, it is dead and should be left alone. Christians and Jews have much in common and should dialogue for mutual edification. But there are others who resent Christianity today. Radical Muslims have persecuted Christians as infidels. Some Western secularists also find Christianity a threat to rational investigation. They believe the Catholic Church must be taken down because of its influence on vast numbers of people. There is much to lament in the history of the Church but much, much more to appreciate and praise. At our best we defend the Church in truth. This means that we admit egregious errors have been made in the name of Christ. We also note the many saints and ordinary Christians who have made the world a better place.