Before Abraham was

Source: District of Great Britain

Passion Sunday

Jesus said to them, Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am. (Jn 8:59)


What did Jesus say to rouse such hatred?

When we listen to the Gospels and learn of the passions that were aroused in Jesus’ enemies, they make little impression on us because we have heard the accounts so many times before. But if we reflect upon the episode in today’s Gospel, what would I - or any of us - have to say to incite law abiding people to violence; not only violence, but to brutally murder in the temple of God. 

Our Lord did not do anything; He merely said before Abraham was made, I am.

He claimed that He was God

The Jews knew full well what Jesus meant and they were blinded by hatred. Jesus, the perfect man, the most striking, elegant, charismatic of men, a man radiating God through His human nature uttered these words and, because they could well have been true, they rushed at Him in fury.

"…before Abraham was made, I am." By these words, Jesus revealed His Divinity in way that could not be mistaken. By saying these words Jesus uttered the only word that can be used to describe Himself as God: Am

Before the burning bush, Moses heard these words: "I am Who Am." In this word is captured the infinity of God (Ex 3:14).

God is Actus Purus

To understand the full implications of the phrase we must first understand in what consists perfection.

Perfection is in action. The singer is in a state of perfection, as a singer, when he sings. A baker when he bakes, etc. With God, however, He cannot ever be in potency to doing anything, otherwise He would not be infinitely perfect (there would always be something more He could do). He is performing every perfect act simultaneously as one, but not acting as a being distinct from His action, for God is simple (not composed of parts); He is His action.  St. Thomas says that He is Actus Purus – one , simple, infinite, unchanging and perfect action - eternally in the present. He is not a being who has existence; He is His existence, hence God can say "I am who Am."

Revelation of Himself though miracles

In the past few weeks we have heard the accounts of Jesus miracles: Jesus revealed Himself as a man:

  • who could make the blind man see as we heard told in the Sunday of Quinquagesima (Lk 18:31-34);
  • who could cast out demons from the possessed as we heard told of the Canaanite daughter in Tyre and Sidon as we heard on Thursday of the first week of Lent (Mt 15:12-28);
  • who could make the lame man by the pool at Bethsaida, crippled for thirty-eight years, walk as we heard told on Friday of first week of Lent (Jn 5:1-15);
  • who became transfigured before three witnesses on Mount Thabor as we heard told on the Second Sunday of Lent (Mt 17:1-9);
  • who had power over matter by multiplying the five loaves and two fishes, as we heard told in the gospel of last Sunday (Jn 6:1-15).

These revelations culminate in the unmistakable words of Jesus. We are no longer in doubt as to the Divinity of Jesus and it is with this before our eyes that we can make sense of the two weeks to follow.

Jesus was not the God they wanted

The Jews wanted to kill Jesus two thousand years ago because He was a sign of contradiction to them. He was upsetting their worldview and their ambitions and it is the same for most people today - they try to kill Jesus in their own lives. They are the jeering crowd who find satisfaction in the removal of every trace of Jesus from this world: atheists, secularists, politicians, the politically correct masses - even churchmen who prefer the religion of man to the religion of God.

In the last few years, their jeering and agitation have grown louder and stronger; they will not be content with anything less than His death again in His Mystical Body.

Making Jesus the God we want

As we enter into Passiontide, we must consciously make Jesus the God that we want or, more precisely, we must make Jesus the God that we love, the One that we follow.

"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." He adds immediately: "For he that will save his life shall lose it, and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it" (Mt 15:24).

The principal way of denying oneself is by humility - for this the prostration of our entire being before God. The principal way of taking up one’s cross is taking up the sweet yolk of God’s law – “keeping His word” which is abandonment to God’s will. Humility allied to abandonment is the exercise of our love towards Jesus and is the means of giving ourselves completely to Him, as He does to us in the Mass, says Dom. Eugene Boylan OCM. He continues:

For that is the whole spiritual life - a love union with Jesus, in which each of the lovers, the divine and the human, give themselves completely to one another. It is not so much a question of acquisition of virtue, of performing heroic deeds, of amassing merit, of bearing fruit in the Church, these things are excellent, especially insofar as they come from love. But nothing less than our very self in its entirety will satisfy the Heart of Jesus, and all He asks is that we give Him our whole self in all poverty and nothingness. The great way to do that is the way shown by Jesus and by Mary by love through humility and abandonment."  (Dom. Eugene Boylan OCM, This Tremendous Lover Chp18).”

Follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Passiontide, my dear brethren. Rather than jeering with the crowds, or running away with the disciples, or denying Jesus with St. Peter, stay close to Mary in humility and abandonment. Make a good confession before Easter and remember the obligation to receive Holy Communion from Passion Sunday to 2nd Sunday after Easter. May God bless you all.