John 8:51-59, Monday of Blindman Week
Christ is Risen!
There are several times in the Gospel of St. John (eight in total) where our Lord uses the expression, "I am..." These include:
1) I am the bread of life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
2) I am the light of the world (John 8:12)
3) I am the door of the sheep (John 10:7, 9)
4) I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
5) I am the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14)
6) I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
7) I am the true vine (John 15:1, 5)
The expressions are our Lord's gift to us to show us His importance in our lives. From the top down, He sustains our lives, a function we ascribe to food, but He extends this beyond just food to include our spiritual lives (1). He illumines those lost in darkness, He is their guide to safe haven (2). As a shepherd guards a flock of sheep, He protects us, members of His Bride, the Church, from evil - to the extent that we seek His protection! (3, 5) He promises us that death in this world is not the end, but the beginning, for we will be gifted resurrection and life eternal if we are faithful servants (4). He defines that which is good and that which is evil (truth), leading us to the knowledge of God (the Source of all life) (6). When we choose to 'graft' ourselves to the Vine that He defines here, we become wedded to the life of the Vine, we are gifted its properties (7).
But we said that there are eight in total. We've left one off the above list because the eighth instance is more powerful and unique than any of the first seven.
8) Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58)
Why is this one so different and so powerful? Inside of the first seven instances, the expression that our Lord uses for I am is ἐγώ εἰμί, a combination of pronoun and verb. In the expression of John 8:58, the Greek still text still presents these same words, but it is clear from the emphasis placed on the words by St. John the Evangelist that our Lord's use refers back in Scripture to Exodus 3:14, where Moses is speaking with God, who is sending him to free the Jews from the Egyptians. There Moses says to God, "When I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' they will say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?", to which God replies, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel - 'I AM has sent me to you." (Ex 3:13-14) Our Lord's use of "I AM" in John 8:58 focuses His adversaries on His invoking the Name God gave to Moses for Himself!
St. John records that this so angered the Jews that "they took up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by." (John 8:59)
This verse of scripture details a judgment on the children of Israel. How so? In their rejection (and indeed judgmentalism and anger), God the Son "leaves the temple." Any grace that God had allowed to be present to bless the activities within the temple prior to that moment were removed. The eternal I AM is rejected by God's "chosen people," who abdicate their chosenness to those who do and will (for all eternity) choose to graft themselves to the True Vine Who is Christ! St. Theophan the Recluse says this about this portion of Scripture:
The Jews became angry with the Lord because of His accusation, and picked up stones 'to cast at Him'. But the Lord went 'through the midst of them, and so passed by'. They did nothing to the Lord, but they destroyed themselves, for the consequence of their unbelief was the terrible sentence of the Lord: 'Behold, your house is left unto you desolate' (Mat 23:38), and also, 'Let us go hence' (John 14:31). And the Lord passed to another place and chose other peoples for His habitation, instead of the beloved Israel.
Indeed, this concept is amplified when one considers the implications of the "veil of the temple" being rent in two from top to bottom when our Lord died on the Cross (Mark 15:38). The significance of the rending of the veil is that the place which had been "the Holy of Holies," a place so rich in sanctity that only the high priest was allowed to enter it, and then only once each year, was destroyed, removed. Access to the holiest place on earth was open to all.
Prior to this day's leaving the temple, one of the final measures of grace alloted to this Holy Place was that which occurred at the Presentation of the Theotokos, when St. Zacharias, inspired by the Holy Spirit, takes the three-year-old child Mary into the Holy of Holies. Tradition (small "t") holds that the Theotokos is the one who wove the temple veil during her time in the temple, before her betrothal to Joseph.
The temple existed for another roughly 30 years after the above encounter between the Lord and the Pharisees, before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. For nearly 2000 years now there has been no temple worship in Jerusalem.
St. Theophan ends his above teaching with these words. Even now, insignificant people, in the self-delusion of a proud mind which does not contain the truth of Christ, take up stones of opposition to the Lord and cast them at Him. They do not harm Him, because He is the Lord, and His truth is the immutable truth; they only destroy themselves. The Lord goes by, leaving such people in their own vain wisdom, which spins them around the way a whirlwind spins loose specks of dust. But when an entire nation is carried away with false wisdom, then the entire nation is left to its fate, as was the case with the Jews. Understand, O ye nations, and submit yourselves to the Lord!
We live in a nation that has moved toward rejection of faith, rejection of belief in the Lord. If we are to avoid the judgment seen in Israel, we need to heed St. Theophan's warning, submitting ourselves to the Lord. So let us not be complacent in our faith, for such is the means by which the Pharisees lost their own faith, supplanted by trust in self over trust in God! Our Lord promised, "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (My Church)." (Mat 16:18) In order for this prophecy to be fulfilled, our Lord requires faith from us who call ourselves by His Name. Let us keep before us remembrance of our Lord's warning: "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) This is a wakeup call to today's Church, my brothers and sisters in Christ! "If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you." (Rev 3:3)
Indeed He is Risen!