This is Passion Week.
We begin the days when our Lord preached the most intensely and tellingly to the Jews, the Scribes, the Pharisees and the people, knowing that His hour approached.
Here He began to reveal Himself more fully than ever to His people and, in consequence, His enemies began more and more to compass His death.
Let us make the most of these last few days of Lent and read the lessons of Scripture in the Mass with careful attention. Let us savour the words of Christ as He prepares for His Passion.
He came down from Mount Olivet, St John tells us, and He began to teach in the Temple to the Jews - Pharisees and people - most not knowing that they beheld the very face of God!
The Pharisees sought to trick Him and brought the woman caught in adultery before Him and asked if He condemned her and He replied famously that he who was without sin should cast the first stone at her, writing in the sand as He spoke. He read their minds and silently convicted each of them of sin so that they went away and left the woman with Him. He did not condemn her but forgave, telling her to go and sin no more.
Thereafter, continuing His teaching in the Temple, our Lord further pricks the conscience and understanding of the Pharisees and they accuse Him of having a devil.
St John continues:
"48 The Jews therefore answered and said to him: Do not we say well that thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil? 49 Jesus answered: I have not a devil: but I honour my Father. And you have dishonoured me. 50 But I seek not my own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. 51 Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever. 52 The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets: and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. 53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself? 54 Jesus answered: If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifieth me, of whom you say that he is your God. 55 And you have not known him: but I know him. And if I shall say that I know him not, I shall be like to you, a liar. But I do know him and do keep his word. 56 Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it and was glad. 57 The Jews therefore said to him: Thou art not yet fifty years old. And hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I AM. 59 They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple."
"I AM" says the Lord!
In Hebrew this can be rendered "Yahweh", the sacred name of God Himself, rendered by the sacred tetragrammaton in Hebrew thus: YHVH.
It is a sacred word, thought to mean "I AM WHO AM" - recalling the words spoken by God to Moses in the account of the burning bush.
No Jew could even utter this without blasphemy....unless, of course, He was God Himself!
The Jews, when they prayed, said Adonai or "your Majesty", but in the royal plural. They sometimes used Elohim which means "God" but again in the royal plural. Nowadays they tend to say HaShem meaning "the Name" or Shem HaMeforash meaning "the Ineffable Name". One sometimes hears the made-up expression Ado-Shem which has no real meaning but is a merging of Adonai and Shem. Many Jews, in writing, will write simply "G-d" to signify their reverence for the Ineffable Name.
Catholics, too, used to have a great reverence for the Holy Name of Jesus, bowing whenever it was mentioned, but, alas, we see how much that devout and holy practice has fallen in desuetude like so many other good and pious practices. The Jews shame us since they continue to reverence the Ineffable Name whereas so many of us Catholics casually pronounce the Holy Name of Jesus with little or no reverence, still less with a bow of the head, even though Scripture says that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:10).
Therefore, when our Lord says "I AM", in this way, He is saying "I AM YOUR GOD".
Those who hear Him, believe.
Those who do not, seek instead to stone Him or kill Him for blasphemy.
For at this moment, Christ has revealed Himself for who He truly is - God Himself - and the Pharisees, refusing to believe, begin to seek His destruction.
When you next are to receive Holy Communion, try saying this when the priest holds up the Host and just before you receive: "Before Abraham was, YOU ARE!".
Just for an instant one glimpses a sense of the awe and majesty of our God who yet so meekly comes to feed Himself to His people in the humble form of bread. Marvellous idea!
Abraham and Isaac. Rembrandt. 1634.
"AMEN, AMEN, I SAY UNTO YOU, BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS
"I AM WHO AM"