[Jesus said to the Jews,] “Truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never experience death.” The Jews replied, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died and the prophets as well, but you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never experience death.’ Who do you claim to be? Do you claim to be greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets also died.”
Then Jesus said, “If I were to praise myself, it would count for nothing. But he who gives glory to me is the Father, the very one you claim as your God, although you don’t know him. I know him, and if I were to say that I don’t know him, I would be a liar like you. But I know him and I keep his word.
As for Abraham, your ancestor, he looked forward to the day when I would come; and he rejoiced when he saw it.”
The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” They then picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple.
The question about Jesus’ identity just would not go away. In fact in today’s gospel, it even becomes an ugly debate. We see Jesus continuing to challenge the Jews about his identity yet they also continued to misunderstand the real meaning of what he says, “Whoever keeps my word will never experience death.” They seemingly understood this only in a literal sense. Prejudice against someone can cloud the senses to the extent that, like the Jews who failed to understand Jesus, one can no longer hear or listen to the other. Today’s reading clearly demonstrates this tendency. Biased against Jesus, they could not listen to what God had to say to them. They did not understand that when Jesus was speaking of “anyone keeping his word would never experience death,” he was speaking of spiritual freedom, an inner freedom that is not bound by sin and death. Jesus was addressing their apathy, a spiritual malady that can deaden the inner senses, eventually leading to hard-heartedness. For Jesus, faith is the only antidote for such a malady. Through faith, Jesus is offering us a restored relationship of intimacy with God, which brings life to the moribund places of our hearts.
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