Thursday, 17 March 2016

I am love

God acknowledges Abraham's faithful trust and promises that he will be regarded as the common ancestor of generation after generation to come among the peoples of the promised land and its surroundings. Jewish people spoke then as now of 'our father Abraham'. Jesus seems to be claiming a special relationship with Abraham in his conversation in the Temple with his contemporaries, reported by St John. It takes a strange turn when he says 

"Whoever keeps my word will never see death." (John 8:51) 

They challenge him: who is he claiming to be? Jesus claims nothing for himself. He speaks only what his heavenly Father gives him. The Father declares loving mercy and compassion, as the ultimate power to deliver humankind from the annihilation of death. Jesus makes this timeless word his own. Physical death is natural, unavoidable, but in relationship to God, there is hope of an utterly different kind of existence. As St Paul later says 

'The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life' (Romans 6:23)

Jesus speaks of Abraham as if they were contemporaries. All those who have ever kept faith with God are equally alive to him, and equally looking forward to the great day when God's work will be realised in the coming of the Messiah. But his living sense of perspective makes no sense to them. Their imaginations are limited. 'Our father Abraham is dead. The prophets are dead too.' so how can he have personal knowledge of Abraham. He responds

'Before Abraham was I AM.'

Jesus doesn't just declare God's words, he embodies the divine Word, ever present. This is the ultimate prophetic utterance, and it is taken as blasphemy by his audience, people who are unconvinced of his standing as a teacher of faith, let alone a spokesperson of God. This phrase 'I AM' is the same as that uttered by God in revelation to Moses (Exodus 3:14, 6:2). It becomes the divine name, so sacred as to avoid direct invocation lest it be called in vain. Also it appears in a celebration of divine sovereignty in the Psalms, in a phrase that is key to deepening the inner journey of prayer.  

'Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted upon earth.' (Psalm 46:10)

In John's Gospel however it is used boldly, linked with seven images, through which Jesus builds an accessible picture of the divine nature - I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way the truth and the life, I am the true vine. Also in the Revelation to John 'I am the Alpha and the Omega' (Rev 1:18 and 21:6, 22:13), also 'Here I am, I stand at the door and knock' (Rev 3:20). 

In the development of human consciousness and speech, the personal utterance 'I am' marks the emergence of distinct individuality, derived from the creator's own uniqueness. In prayer meditating on the phrase 'I am love' can serve to remind us of the relationship for which we exist. It both declares what God is, and what we his children are called to be.

'Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.'  (1 John 4-7)

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