Jesus’ listeners “picked up stones to throw at him” (Jn 8:59). Though less violent, this interaction has some similarities found in Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse (cf. John chapter 6), where Jesus made the statement, that, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:48). In both cases the people do not understand what Jesus is sharing and yet Jesus doubles down on his points.
In John 6, Jesus holds firm to the truth that his followers will consume him and in today’s Gospel Jesus does not equate himself as being just a representative of God, a prophet or a rabbi, but that he in fact is God when he states: “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn 58). With these words, Jesus has just done the unthinkable, he not only has spoken God’s sacred name, which is not to be uttered because it is considered too holy to do so, he equates this sacred name, “I AM”, with himself. Jesus is making his point very clear, that he is God. During the Bread of Life discourse people walked away from him because they were repulsed and most likely considered him mad, here they believe he is speaking blasphemy. The reactions would be appropriate in both cases, unless, Jesus is who he said he is.
As his listeners then, we too have a choice to believe or disbelieve in Jesus. One option that is off the table, if we give the Gospel accounts any rational reading, is that Jesus presented himself as just another teacher, philosopher, prophet, or guru. Jesus, during his public ministry, is consistently embroiled in conflict, which is evident in all four Gospels because Jesus presents himself as God incarnate. Jesus heals on the Sabbath because he is the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is the Bread of Life, Jesus is: “I AM.”
The Apostles struggle to make sense of the words and actions of Jesus and we also struggle with our understanding of who God is and who Jesus is. We may have doubts, concerns, and unanswered prayers and/or questions. To walk the path of discipleship is not to walk with constant assurance, for we walk by faith and not by sight (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7). Walking by faith does not mean we throw up our hands, toss out all reason, and believe blindly. Dr. Holly Ordway defined faith as “trust based on a reasoned knowledge of the evidence.” Faith means that we trust that Jesus is who he claimed himself to be based on the scriptural evidence, our own experiments with the truth based on these claims and our experiences of him today.
Jesus calls and we follow. He does not give us the full picture, but as we step out trusting in his call, he will reveal to us each step of the way what we need to know. He will be present and work through us as we continue to turn our life over to him and one another more and more each day. When we begin to doubt, we can lean on Peter’s claim, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). Peter made this claim based on his experience and trust in his relationship with Jesus. Our relationship and belief in Jesus will also grow to the same depth, moment by moment, with each yes to the invitation of Jesus, the Holy One of God.
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Holly Ordway’s quote comes from Lesson 2: Bridging the Meaning Gap in her course: Imaginative Apologetics which can be accessed by registering for the Word on Fire Institute, the home page of which can be accessed: https://wordonfire.institute/