Passion Sunday of Lent John 8:46
Jesus said, “Before Abraham I am”
Abraham lived roughly as long before Jesus as Jesus did before us.
Speaking of them as in any sense contemporaries conjures up images of time travel, such as has been made famous in the world of science fiction by authors like H G Wells and Jules Verne or films like “Back to the Future” and TV programmes like “Dr Who”.
We have become used at least to holding in our heads the idea that a person from one period in history could somehow be contemporary with a person from a completely different period.
That is the kind of picture we are tempted to think of when we hear a Gospel reading like to days, about Jesus and Abraham but this idea would point us in quite the wrong direction.
Jesus is not saying that Abraham somehow travelled forward in time to be present with Him, nor is he saying that Jesus himself travelled back in time in order to be present with Abraham, two thousand years earlier.
He is saying something different altogether.
The Judeans, who have been getting crosser and more agitated with what Jesus was doing and saying, are clearly ready to take whatever Jesus does and use it in evidence against him.
They seam to think that his words do indeed imply that he has been travelling in time, and they mocked him for it.
He is not yet fifty years old, far less five hundred let alone two thousand years old.
But Jesus is talking to them at another level altogether.
The point that Jesus is making in this part of John’s Gospel, is the point which is His defence against the capital charge that some are seeking to mount against Him, for breaking the Sabbath.
Is that God, Israel’s God, the one whom the Judeans claim to worship, to know and to serve, is operating in and through Jesus in a decisive and unique way, and to summon Israel back to a genuine knowledge and allegiance to himself?
God is the one who alone gives life, He has given His word to Jesus, and so if someone keeps Jesus words, death will go by them without making any difference.
In making claims like this Jesus is not so much talking about Himself but is talking about the Father who sent Him.
This however is so striking that His hearers convince themselves that it constitutes evidence of demon possession.
All four Gospels tell us that Jesus hearers accused Him of being either possessed by, or in league with the devil.
Clearly Jesus must have been saying and doing things that were remarkable enough, and disturbing enough, to make people throw such accusations at Him.
We do not know what precisely He was actually saying that lead to them trying to stone him to death.
Jesus could have simply said that God gives live to the faithfully departed, a life with him in the present, and a newly embodied life in the resurrection to come.
But He goes further by claiming that the one true God is at work in Him and through Him, and that Abraham himself, in trusting this one true God and His promises for the future, had celebrated the fact that he would see the day of Jesus.
This seems to mean that Abraham, in trusting God’s promises and that through his family all the peoples of the earth would be blessed, was actually looking ahead to the day when Jesus would bring that promise into reality.
He is claiming, in other words, that He, Jesus, is at last embodying what the one living God, Abraham’s God, had foretold and promised all those year ago.
He is identifying himself so closely with the one true and living God that Jesus can speak of Himself as being before Abraham existed.
This is as close as we come to a direct statement from the lips of Jesus to what John says at the beginning of his Gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
Again, we would be wrong to see this passage as part of a gentle, abstract theological discussion.
It takes place at the leading edge between ecstasy and fury, with the crowd accusing Jesus of being demon possessed and Jesus exploring more and more what it means that He is speaking and acting as the very mouthpiece of the Father and that they can not and will not understand and believe Him.
In this setting Jesus is so conscious of the Father being with Him, working in Him, speaking through Him, that He can speak, in a kind of ecstasy of union, in the name of the father, “I am” one of the central meaning of YHWH, the holy name of God.
Jesus has seen himself so identified with the Father that He can use the name as a way of referring to himself and His mission.
Jesus said, “Before Abraham existed, I am”.