Christ before Caiaphas (1617), Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), National Gallery (UK)
– Rev José Mario O Mandía
We have previously examined the value of the Gospels and have concluded that they can be considered as an authentic historical record. Once we start reading the Gospels, we immediately come upon the main character: Jesus. And what do we discover? He makes claims which many people found simply incredible.
In order to understand this, it is important to recall a scene in the Old Testament, when God reveals His name to Moses. Exodus 3:13-14 tells us: “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO AM [in Hebrew, ‘YHWH’].’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’”
The Hebrews respected the name so much that they avoided pronouncing it and used instead another name such as Adonai (Lord). Scholars say that in the times of Jesus, the sacred name was pronounced only once a year, during the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
Now let’s go to the Gospels. In one of the confrontations between Jesus and some Jews, they question his credentials. Jesus tells them, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am [‘YHWH’].’ (John 8:56-58)
We can imagine the shock and consternation of the Jews when they heard these words. They understood exactly what he was claiming about himself. That’s why “they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.” (John 8:56-58) Stoning was the punishment for blasphemy.
Jesus made this assertion not only once. Twenty-four times, Jesus emphatically says “I am” (see John 4:26; 6:20; 6:35; 6:41; 6:48; 6:51; 8:12; 8:18; 8:23 (twice); 8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 10:7; 10:9; 10:11; 10:14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1; 15:5; 18:5; 18:6; 18:8). In the rest of the New Testament books, “I am” occurs a total of eighty–six times, of which only twenty–eight are emphatic (Matt 14:27; 22:32; 24:5; 26:22, 25; Mark 6:50; 13:6; 14:62; Luke 1:19; 21:8; 22:70; 24:39; Acts 9:5; 10:21; 11:5; 18:10; 22:3, 8, 19; 26:15, 29; Heb 1:5; 2:13; Rev 1:8, 17; 2:23; 21:6; 22:16). For more details, google the online discussion of Fr Felix Just SJ: “‘I Am’ Sayings In The Fourth Gospel.”
This is the reason he was put to death–he kept on insisting that he was God’s Son, and therefore he was God as well. In St John 5:17-18, for example, we read: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.” Moreover, he did not refuse those who came to adore him, as when Thomas, after the Resurrection, exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
Let us suppose that a friend were to tell us that he (our friend) is actually not human but an angel sent from heaven. How would we react? We would think he is joking. In a talk in 1942, CS Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus is either liar or lunatic or lord. If He cannot show that He has divine power, he is fooling us or is himself a fool: he cannot be credible. Did Jesus prove His words are worth believing? How?
That’s what we have to take up next time.