October 14, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: One with the Father

See John 10:22-42

John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the feast of the Dedication of the Temple—Hanukkah. He had last been there for the feast of Tabernacles, usually held in October, and Hanukkah is celebrated 10 weeks later, in December. It was a relatively recent feast at the time of Jesus, at least in comparison with Passover. Hanukkah was introduced by the Hasmonean dynasty (descendants of the Maccabees) about 200 years earlier to commemorate the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus after the Seleucids had desecrated it. The story is in the First Book of Maccabees.

At some point during the eight-day celebration, Jesus was walking on the Portico of Solomon. It’s on the east side of the temple and provides protection from winter winds blowing in from the desert. As usual, “the Jews,” as John designates them, found him there. They were getting impatient with some of the things Jesus had told them in the past, so now they asked him to tell them plainly whether or not he was the Messiah.

Jesus again pointed to the “works” he had done in his Father’s name and asserted that his “sheep”—those who believed in him—followed him. To them, he said, he would give eternal life.

But then he made a claim that paled in significance to the question of whether or not he was the Messiah: “The Father and I are one,” he said. He didn’t say specifically, “I am God,” but his listeners understood what he meant because, as they had before, they picked up rocks to stone him. To them, with no knowledge about the doctrine of the Trinity, they could only imagine that he was claiming to be a second god. Just as in the past, they were sure that he blasphemed.

But then Jesus seemed to soften his claim a bit. He reminded his listeners that their Scriptures called men gods, quoting Psalm 82:6: “I said, ‘You are gods.’” The Scriptures said that men were godlike when they performed the role of judge, establishing justice. How then, Jesus asked, could they condemn the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world because he said, “I am the Son of God”?

We recognize that there’s a profound difference between someone called “godlike” because he serves as a judge and Jesus applying the term “God” to himself. But we might also recall our prayer during the Offertory of the Mass when we pray with the celebrant, “… may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.”

Jesus’ words did not mollify his listeners, who again tried to arrest him—at least for the third time—for blasphemy. But once again, John’s Gospel says, he escaped from their power—how, it doesn’t say. Perhaps he simply walked through their midst and no one was brave enough to touch him.

He went back across the Jordan River into what today is the country of Jordan, although we don’t know exactly where. †


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