ACTA COMMENTARY on THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK Download here >>> Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B
To get a grip on John’s Gospel is a work of rich reward, and a work of blood, sweat and tears. Our Lectionary compilers decided not to have a four year cycle of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Readings from John are confined to bit parts scattered throughout the other three years. So we do not hear John’s Gospel over a considerable period and there is less time to come to embrace its profound teaching.
A Stream of Sentences
Here is a list of sentences that occur in John’s Gospel, mostly in the weeks after Easter Sunday. Be alert to the constant use of I AM (twice on this Sunday). To help I will put these in capital letters, for emphasis and clarity. I will arrange the sentences in two groups for reasons that will be explained as we go along.
Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins. 8:24
When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
then you will know that I AM. 8:28
Before Abraham was, I AM. 8:58
When it does take place you may believe that I AM. 13:19
This is an extraordinary way to express oneself if you want to make yourself clear to those with whom you are in conversation.
Listeners will ask, “I am what? “Who is this I am?” Were we there, some of us would surely have said, “What are you on about?” Is there some particular meaning given to his words by Jesus that puzzles his audience? Does the writer who records these statements wish to impart some profound message to his readers/hearers?
I AM the bread of life.
6:35 and 6:51
I AM the light of the world.
8:12 and 9:5
I AM the gate.
10:7 and 10:9
I AM the good shepherd.
10:11 and 10:14
I AM the resurrection and the life.
I AM the way, the truth, and the life.
I AM the true vine.
15:1 and 15:5
Of course our Gospels were written in Greek and we have to look at the Greek text for an explanation. The Greek phrase which is translated as “I am” is the ordinary way of saying “I am a priest”; “I am Irish”; “I am retired”. So there is no mystery. Jesus is just saying “I am the good shepherd” - as opposed to the bad guys!” But try that with the first group and it will not work. If you try it with the last quotation in Group One, you will see this clearly: When it does take place you may believe that I Am - I am what? I am who? I am where? There is something pretty mysterious going on.
As for the second group, in each case the I AM defines himself as some object: bread, light, gate, vine. Or the I AM is some abstract idea: the resurrection, the way, the truth, the life. Or, as we explored last week, the I AM is a person, a shepherd.
Again we have to go back to the Old Testament to seek some enlightenment. In the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) there are many statements beginning with “I am” when the text relates that God is speaking. There are many passage that present God as addressing human beings and beginning with an announcement such as “I am God” or “I am Yahweh” (usually in English translations this appears as “I am the LORD”) to lend weight to what is being said. This way of introducing God at the beginning of some divine disclosure or revelation identifies the speaker and establishes divine authority for what is proclaimed. A few examples:
I AM the LORD your God
who brought you out of the land of Egypt’
The Lord God identifies himself as the one who delivered the people from slavery in Egypt. Then he gives the Ten Words or Commandments as a way of life.
I AM the LORD your God;
Ever since the land of Egypt
You have known no God but me;
Apart from me you have no saviour.
The LORD God, through the prophet Hosea, reminds this people that God has been with them since the days in Egypt and that it is this God who is their true saviour.
For thus says the LORD,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
( he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain’.
I the LORD speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
This quotation has the LORD God declare that he, the God Jacob and his descendants worship, is the Creator. He is God who formed and maintains the earth. “I am the LORD”, he says. Notice the last line:
I, the LORD, speak the truth;
I declare what is right.”
Think of the words of Jesus.
I AM the way,
the truth and the life.
We have now reached the point where we can say that Jesus in John’s Gospel is speaking with the voice of God. His speech pattern is that of God. His I AM statements are declarations of who he is and an explanation of the power and authority that are at his command. The I AM statements reveal the divine identity of Jesus.
There is a solemn moment in the Bible that defines who God is. Moses, the greatest servant of God in the Bible of our Jewish fathers and mothers, is appointed by God to lead God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt to freedom. He fears that the people will not recognise that he comes from a God who is determined to save them. They will fear that they are being called into the desert (a very dangerous place) to be destroyed. What is the name of this God calling us into the wilderness? This is what happened when Moses asks God to identify himself:
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 I Am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you. ’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Exodus 3:13-15
The I AM of God is the I AM of Jesus.
We need to think more about this.
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 117:1. 8-9. 21-23. 26. 2829. R/ v.22
A reading from the first letter of St John 3:1-2
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 10:11-18
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A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31
And when [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that
he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the
name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
The word of the LORD.
Paul, the greatest of all apostles, has wandered into our Lectionary Easter readings fleetingly. We learned that his birth name was Saul and that zealously he persecuted those tiny groups of Jewish people in Jerusalem who had come to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
Saul was convinced that believing Jesus to be God’s Messiah was contrary to God’s will and undermining everything that Judaism held dear. But the Damascus Road experience, recorded at the beginning of chapter 9, caused Paul to see the light. Far from debunking faith, Jesus the Messiah was the fulfilment of all the expectations God had placed in Jewish hearts over centuries of preparation. It is wrong to suppose that Saul the Jew was converted to Paul the Christian. Saul never abandoned the faith of his fathers. Saul embraced the astonishing conviction that Jesus was not the problem. Jesus was the answer. The only thing Saul changed was his name.
When Saul came back from Damascus to Jerusalem enthusiastically promoting faith in Jesus, it is hardly surprising that he was opposed. The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews whose permanent home was outside Palestine) set out to kill him. People in exile from the Jewish heartland were perhaps less open to discussion than residents of Jerusalem who were well acquainted with learned rabbis and their theological debates. The Jerusalem Christians who had seen Saul/Paul participate in the stoning of Stephen were probably relieved to see the back of him and sent him home to Tarsus where the great apostle had been born. Tarsus is in southeast Turkey. So out of sight, out of mind.
What we should note is that, with the impetus of the Holy Spirit, the Christian movement flourished. And notice, too, that these scattered groups of Christians are called the church. Already individual, local churches, are realising there is a unity in diversity. The scattered churches create a common identity and purpose.
Two other words in today’s first reading need consideration: fear and comfort (or consolation).
A WORD ON FEAR
“Fear of the LORD” is a common phrase in our Bible and one of the least understood. The word “fear” and related words such as “fearful”, “feared”, “fearing”, occur 490 times in the pages of Scripture. Fear has played a very significant rôle in Christian teaching and Catholics of my generation were reared on the fear of God rather on God’s loving embrace. That is a perversion, not entirely banished from our pulpits.
Here are some phrases which might have caused preachers to think:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 1.7
The fear of the LORD is a hatred of evil. Proverbs 8.13
The fear of the LORD leads to life. Proverbs 19.23
The fear of the LORD prolongs life. Proverbs 10.27
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life Proverbs 14.27
The fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure. Isaiah 33.6
How can fear be so life enhancing? How can fear be a treasure even on the hill of Zion where stood the Temple from which the Presence of God radiated into every heart?
A little more probing will clarify and a good place to seek wisdom is in prayer, in the psalms, for they bring us close to the community prayer of the people. I want to take a few lines as a headline to guide us in investigation and then to lead us home to a place of calm. Our headline:
Love the LORD, all you his holy ones!
The LORD preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord
Now we will plot our way through a bundle of prayers:
how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.
So those who fear God are given God’s special care. God covers them with the cloak of his presence, hiding them from plots and stratagems, even from evil tongues. There is an abundance of riches stored up in God’s treasure chest and they are for those who fear the LORD.
Now pray this prayer slowly:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.
Why should this outpouring of steadfast love, the kind of love that endures forever, be ever in God’s heart for “those who fear him”?
The answer is in yet another prayer:
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man.
God is not impressed by physical strength, nor by the muscles of mighty warriors.
But the Lord takes pleasure
in those who fear him,
in those who await his steadfast love.
Fear of the LORD
Waiting for God’s steadfast love!
We have reached an answer. Those who fear the LORD are those whose live knowing that their lives are rooted in God, in God’s steadfast love. To live is to hope, to live in the turmoil of life, knowing that your hope is in the living God and God is steadfast love. Love that endures forever and a day. The latest Jewish translation of Psalm 147:11 translates those who fear God as,
those who depend on His faithful care.
Now we can return to our headline prayer:
Love the LORD, all you his holy ones!
The LORD preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.
The fact that there are over 365 instances of the phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not”, in the pages of the Bible, should tell us that God seeks to overcome human fear, not to cause it. Of course, the Bible has instances where those who flout God’s concern for the poor, who cheat and steal, who plunder and murder are warned of dire consequences. But God’s wrath is essentially reformative in that his wrath is speedily followed by compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. We will, no doubt, have to confront God’s wrath as we try to understand more deeply what the Bible says about God. In the meantime, read the story of Jonah and the big sea beast, not to mention the castor oil plant.
A WORD ON CONSOLATION
The last sentence of our first reading:
…and … walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit or in the consolation of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word in the last sentence of today’s first reading is paraklēsis out of the same stable as Parakletos, the Paraclete, the name John’s Gospel gives to the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus to be the mainstay of his community after his departure.
We are told of the expansion of the earliest Christian communities northwards from Jerusalem through Judea, up through Samaria, and to Galilee, the home province of Jesus. As the brothers and sisters spread the word, “they were filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit”. The word in one form or another, occurs 139 times in the New Testament and ought to get more of a hearing since it is rather important. As a translation, I think that “comfort” or “consolation” are a bit wet. The thing that characterises the men and women who first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus to a very disbelieving public was their amazing courage. They were, I believe, filled with the courage of the Holy Spirit. This is the sort of thinking that Pope Francis is trying to instil into a Church more given to “anything for a quiet life” than courage to proclaim God’s love to a hurting world:
Being Church means being God’s people,
in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s own leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way.
Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, §114.
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 21 (22):26-28. 30-32. R/ v.26
My vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!
R/. You, O LORD, are my praise in the great assembly.
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust.
R/. You, O LORD, are my praise in the great assembly.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim
his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
R/. You, O LORD, are my praise in the great assembly.
This Psalm is well-known to everyone who has stood at the foot of the cross and heard the cry of a dying man:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
That is the first line of Psalm 22, a prayer that begins with an agonising scream of abandonment. It is a cry Jesus shouts to heaven. Strangely, Jesus is dead before an answer comes. But on the lips of Jesus it is not the cry of one who has lost faith. He cries to “MY God”. Even in his last torment, he knows that he is still God’s concern. The resurrection is God’s answer.
This long prayer works its way from abandonment, to hope, to rescue, to singing a song for all to hear:
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
A reading from the first letter of St John 3:18-24
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
The word of the LORD.
Our readings of what seem to be random passages from the First Letter of John manage to hone in on bits that somehow (by luck or good guidance?) come to the heart of what is a very rambling piece of writing. The piece chosen for today is as good a summary of what humanity is all about as you are likely to find. At least, it explains in simple terms how we must live on this planet. We are told that this is what God demands, not only because God is a demanding God (God is always demanding). We are told that if we are to live the life that God wants, if we are to be truly human, then we must love one another.
We believe that Jesus came to underline what God had said in olden times: Love one another as I have loved you. Since God’s love for us lasts forever, has no beginning or no end, we have no fears that will last forever. God’s advice is this. It comes in two parts:
- 1. You shall love the LORD, your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4
- 2. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Leviticus 19:18
Jesus agreed that this was the top and bottom of the business of holiness. The two books from which these quotations are taken are concerned with holiness and the reason for their concern is based on the most basic of all commandments:
You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.
Holiness is what happens when human beings become aware of God’s presence. When we come to know that God’s presence is infused throughout creation, that creation is held in God’s hands, what follows is not a rush to keep a stack of commandments. Nor is holiness an imitation of God, as if we must hasten to be loving, compassionate, forgiving. Holiness is the basis of these necessary virtues. Holiness is to know that you belong to God. Holiness is to know that you are the work of God’s hands. It is to know that you are God’s, that God is responsible for you and to you, that God as is as near you as you are to yourself. Holiness is to know, that since you belong to God, God’s purpose in creating you will be fulfilled in you. Holiness is to know who you truly are. There is only one prayer or rather one act of faith, one expression of hope that defines your existence and destiny:
The LORD will fulfil his purpose in me.
Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever:
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Of course, we must love one another, be compassionate, merciful, and forgiving. But it is the knowing that God abides in us and we abide in God, that impels us to love the lovable and the unlovable, the lovely and the unlovely, alike. For that is what the Spirit of God within us seeks to speak to broken humanity.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 15:1-8
I AM the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit
he takes away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes,
that it may bear more fruit.
Already you are clean
because of the word that I have spoken to you.
Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself,
unless it abides in the vine, neither can you,
unless you abide in me.
I AM the vine;
you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in me,
he is thrown away like a branch and withers;
and the branches are gathered,
thrown into the fire,
If you abide in me,
and my words abide in you,
ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
By this my Father is glorified,
that you bear much fruit
and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments,
you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments
and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you,
That my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete.
The Gospel of the LORD
I AM occurs twice in this defining piece from John’s Gospel. As we have seen, these are statements of identity. What God is and what God does, Jesus is and Jesus does. We need to pause a bit and explore the I AM statements. These seven (our Group Two again from page 2) are:
I AM the bread of life. 6:35 and 6:51
I AM the light of the world. 8:12 and 9:5
I AM the gate 10:9
I AM the good shepherd. 10:11 and 10:14
I AM the resurrection and the life. 11:25
I AM the way, the truth, and the life. 14:6
I AM the true vine. 15:1 and 15:5
A brief romp through the Old Testament may whet your appetite to explore beyond the briefest of links I suggest here between what Jesus, the I AM, says about himself and what God, the I AM, did in the story of Israel.
I AM the Bread of Life:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt… Exodus 16:4-6
Yet he commanded the skies above
and opened the doors of heaven,
and he rained down on them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.
Man ate of the bread of the angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled … Psalm 78:24-29
God fed the hungry in the desert. So did Jesus. The story of Jesus miraculously feeding of large numbers of people is told six times in our Gospels (twice in Mark, twice in Matthew, once in Luke and once in John. It is the only miracle story told in all four Gospels.
I AM the light of the world:
Let there be light!
“Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me,
when his lamp shone upon my head,
and by his light I walked through darkness. Job 29:3
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid Psalm 27:1
The first word of creation is “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). This is not a request to turn on a light so that God can see the work of his hands. It is a declaration that God illumines creation so that humanity can look around and see the work of God in all creation.
I AM the gate:
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said,
“Surely the Lord is in this place,
and I did not know it.”
And he was afraid, and he said,
“How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I AM the good shepherd:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake
For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
I AM the resurrection and the life:
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.
1 Kings 17:17-24
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out. 2 Kings 4:32-37
The LORD God gives power to his prophets Elijah and Elisha to restore to life the son of a poor widow and the son of a foreign woman. Just as Jesus raised Lazarus, so God raised these two sons. The point is that Jesus has power to bring to life those who are dead. These stories point to the resurrection as God’s destiny for humanity and provide the assurance that we will not abide in endless night.
I AM the way, the truth, and the life:
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22
Now obey my voice:
I will give you advice,
and God be with you!
You shall represent the people before God
and bring their cases to God,
and you shall warn them
about the statutes and the laws,
and make them know
the way in which they must walk
and what they must do. Exodus 18:19-20
This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those
who take refuge in him
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long
Your way, O God, is holy.
The words “road” or “path” or “street” or “way” normally refer to a strip of land we walk or drive on. But they are often used in a metaphorical sense. We often hear phrases such as “the way of the world” and “the way of all flesh”, “the street of shame”. The Bible uses the word “way” in speaking of the desert way travelled by the people of Israel as they headed for the Promised Land.
But the Bible frequently uses the word, as in the quotations above, to speak of the way of God, the way we must live if we are to live as God designed us.
If we walk with our God, live according to God’s way, know God’s truth, we will have life:
You make known to me the way of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Jesus is the embodiment of God’s way. When Pilate asks, “What is truth?” he is looking into the face of truth. And Jesus gives life, the life of God, to all who walk his way.
I AM the true vine:
A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
I, the Lord, am its keeper;
every moment I water it.
That no harm may befall it.
Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard;
they have trampled down my portion;
they have made my pleasant portion
a desolate wilderness
But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong. Zechariah 8:11-13
Sometimes the Bible imagines Israel to be a vineyard and God the one who cares for his precious vines. But the kings of Israel were for the most part no better than neighbouring kings. They were wolves who devoured the sheep and plundered the vineyard of God. A good illustration of their behaviour is the story of Naboth, his vineyard, Jezebel and her husband in 1 Kings, chapter 21.
While God is pictured as the vinedresser of Israel, his vineyard, there is no reference to God as a vine. But John Gospel’s imagines Jesus to be the vine in the Father’s vineyard. From this choice vine branches laden with choice fruit will spring. Bad fruit will be cast aside.
What all the I AM statements mean is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Still does.
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