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Jesus – just a regular guy, or something more?

April 29, 2015

John 12: 44-50                                   Wednesday 29th April 2015

Yesterday St John’s gospel was very specific in identifying when and where our Lord was in the gospel reading. Today there is no mention of such details. And the reason is because today’s gospel is not an account of an actual event but a summary of what has been previously said in the gospel.

St John’s Gospel can be divided into two parts. The first part, up to and including Chapter 12, has been called ‘The Book of Signs’. The second part, from Chapter 13 onwards is ‘The Book of Glory’.[1]

Today’s gospel is in effect the epilogue for part 1, the Book of Signs. (From tomorrow, St John covers the events of Holy Week that led to glory – the Last Supper and the trial, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.) You will know that the opening of John’s gospel, the so–called Prologue, is those tremendously moving and famous reading we hear at Christmas:

“In the beginning was the Word.

And the Word was with God

and the Word was God.”

So John’s gospel starts off on a very firm basis – Jesus is God.

Yet the first disciples of Jesus and the people who listened to what he had to say during his three-year ministry were drawn to Him by his charismatic personality, the strength of His teaching, the signs and miracles He performed. They would not have seen Him as God, but as very much a remarkable human being.

This is why, in today’s gospel, St John goes out of his way in the corresponding epilogue to summarise of what has happened so far in his story in a way that emphasises that Jesus is God, that He is divine.

We need to just remind ourselves of the very different world in which those who saw and heard Jesus were living. It was a deeply religious world, in which everyday events and things around them were very much seen in religious terms – everything had a meaning, everything was a reminder of God’s Creation, and for the Jewish People especially they were very much aware of being ‘The Chosen People.’

Bit it was also a very brutal world. A world dominated by the Roman Empire. And, as I have said before, it was a brutal regime that would not tolerate the slightest dissent. The horrific death of Jesus by crucifixion was a fate endured by thousands of others who had crossed the Roman military regime.

Into this deeply religious but brutal world came Jesus, offering a message of hope to the people. A message that God was a loving God, and a forgiving God; a God who was faithful to His people.

And I repeat, the purpose of the gospel today is to summarise the story so far, with an emphasis on Jesus not being only human, but also being God.

In the gospel Jesus says, ‘Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me’. Present tense. So the people seeing Jesus at that time, when he was present, were seeing God. Jesus is God. This is what we mean when we say that Jesus is God made visible.

Jesus also says ‘What I was to say, what I had to speak was commanded by the Father who sent me’. Past tense. Jesus has previously been commanded by God to speak His message of love and Truth. And, as I said earlier, John had introduced his gospel by asserting, ‘The Word was with God and the Word was God.

And finally Jesus says, ‘I know that (God’s) commands mean eternal life.’ A promise as to the future.

Can you see the pattern in what Jesus is saying? He talks of the past, the present and the future. That is God speaking. God is timeless. He covers all time. Jesus is God.

A response is required from the people who hear the Word of God, who recognise the Truth of what Jesus is saying, who believe in Jesus. The response to the message of love and hope is one of repentance – to re-think one’s life, to get one’s priorities right, to sort out the mistakes we may have made. There is a fancy Greek word for this response. It is metanoia. It means someone undergoing a complete change, having completely new outlook and world-view, based on putting God first in their lives.

Jesus talks today of those who do not believe that He is God, saying that they will be judged according to the words that He has spoken. This may seem a little harsh. On Monday we heard that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that He is the gate to the sheepfold[2]; Jesus also says, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Light. No one can come to the Father except through me.’[3] Does this mean that unless you are baptised and a faithful Christian in this life, you are doomed to be separated from God forever? No. We Catholics hold to the Doctrine of Purgatory: after this life we may enter a spiritual state that continues preparation for entry into heaven if we are not ready to see the face of God. I happen to believe that this spiritual state is an opportunity to be led by Jesus to heaven. So it remains the case that access to heaven is through Jesus, even if in this life people have not fully embraced Him. (Remember, purgatory is not a place, bounded by time; I don’t think it is some hellish place as depicted by Dante. Purgatory is a ‘state’ or ‘condition’. Of course, as good Christians, we should be striving for heaven, so that when we die we can go to our heavenly home, just like St Catherine of Siena whom we celebrate today.

And now we move towards seeing God, seeing Jesus, under the form of bread, to receive Him into our very bodies, to be with us. This remarkable privilege and gift from God we receive because we believe. We believe that Jesus is true God and true man.

[1] Raymond Brown The Gospel According to John (I-XII) 2007

[2] John 10: 11-18

[3] John 14: 6

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