March 23rd, 2021

The Gospel according to John (8:21-30) 

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.”
So the Jews said,
“He is not going to kill himself, is he,
because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
He said to them, “You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins.”
So they said to him, “Who are you?”
Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning.
I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true,
and what I heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.
So Jesus said to them,
“When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me. 
He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

Opening Prayer: Jesus, You spoke so plainly to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel.  Help me to hear Your words and not only hear, but take them into my heart, so that I may do Your will today and always.  Amen.

Encountering Christ:

If you are looking for one chapter in the Gospels that spells out more clearly than just about anywhere else that Jesus was *not* one of the teachers of Judaism, then the 8th chapter of John’s Gospel, which we hear from today is it.  We have heard much about how Jesus’ teaching authority was totally different from the Pharisees, who relied on others to “back up” what they taught.  Jesus did not rely on human authority.  In today’s passage, he emphasizes that the Pharisees may have known a great deal about the Judaic Law, but they did not know God as He wished for them to know Him.  It’s yet another reminder to each one of us that our faith is not about the rules we keep, but about how we love those that God has placed into our lives.

Each of us has the same calling from our Heavenly Father: to follow the two great laws that Jesus highlighted: Love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as we do ourselves.  I would add that we should also not be afraid to do both of those actions in such a way that others see them.  That’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.

I’ve been blessed for quite a number of years to be a volunteer in youth ministry.  Seeing young people discover or deepen their faith has been one of the great joys of my life.  I don’t know how many teens I’ve worked with over the years, but it’s not hard at all for me to recall examples of young people who truly saw the Lord’s presence in their lives and showed a sincere effort to make Him the center of their lives.  I wish I had been so bold when I was that age.  I was a Christian from my youth, but I don’t think I lived out that life very visibly.  Yet, that is what we are called to do!  My prayer each day is to discover God’s presence anew in my life and live it out in some concrete way that brings glory to God.

Another point about today’s Gospel: the Pharisees ask Jesus at one point, “who are you?”  On the one hand, I wonder how they did not know Him by this time?  Did they think He was somehow someone else than they thought?  But, if you look at the text just before that question, you see that Jesus saying “if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.”  Jesus’ use of that term “I AM” was clearly startling to the Pharisees.  That was the name that God used to call Himself (He gave that to Moses, when He spoke to Moses out of the burning bush).  Jesus was basically turning their whole way of believing on its head, in essence, saying that if they did not accept Jesus as the Eternal Son of God, they would die in their sins.  How could they possibly reconcile how they *thought* they related to God with the actual encounter with God in the person of Jesus?

Our faith can be like that sometimes.  We may have a certain way that we view our relationship with God and how we express it, through prayer, through participation at mass, through works of service.  God, though He loves those things when we do them, wants even more from us.  He wants our very selves.  He wants for us to put ourselves out there in service to His children.  It’s not easy, and it can strain our minds to correlate that with our faith which may be more comfortable than challenging to us.

So what do we do then?  We need to look for ways that God is calling us to do more to bring His kingdom.  We need to love more every day, for that is how we can share with others about God, who is love. We need to accept that our faith is not about being comfortable, but about seeking to be the best “I” that I can be.  And, let us also know, in our deepest heart of hearts, that while God longs for us to grow and deepen our faith, He will never love us any less for not changing.  It is my hope that each of us builds that desire to grow, though, so that we can bring in that much more fruit for the kingdom, and to draw more and more to the banquet that never ends.

Closing Prayer: God, I know that You are love.  Help me to demonstrate that through my actions, and to know that You are with me always.  Help me to love as You love, and to be Your hands, Your feet, Your voice in the world, and to especially care for those who are most in need.  Amen.

Action for the Day: Reach out to someone today (by phone, text, social media, or in person [socially-distanced, if not someone in your household]), and tell them that they are beloved by God and that you are praying for them.  Then, of course, pray for them!

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