The Daily Bread, 2nd April 2020.
Readings: Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 104(105):4-9; John 8:51-59
The reason the Jews wanted to throw stones at Jesus, as we’ve just heard, is because Jesus, by saying “I Am”, is effectively saying that He is God. You remember that Moses received the revelation of the name of God at the burning bush when God revealed His name as, “I Am Who Am.” So, by saying, “I Am”, Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms that He is God. Of course, the Jews simply cannot accept that. They can’t accept that a carpenter from an obscure town in Galilee could possibly be God. They expect some great visionary, some majestic figure as the Messiah, as the Son of God. Definitely not Jesus.
And so, they accuse Him of blasphemy and want to stone Him. As we know, eventually, Jesus is crucified for the very same reason.
But, my goodness, there are others things that Jesus says in the Gospel, and he says one of them in the excerpt of today, which would get people angry and want to have a go at Him. He says to them “You people say you are the children of Abraham and you say that you know God, that He is your God, but I’m telling you that you don’t know God. You are liars. You say you know God, but in fact you don’t know Him at all. So, you are not speaking the truth. You are liars.” Jesus is almost asking for it. He’s putting himself in the position as if to incite them, “Come on and get me.”
There is here a challenge for all of us. That remark of Jesus pricks everyone’s conscience. “You say you know God, but do you really? Are you telling the truth or are you a liar?” Now, I am asking this first of all of myself. I’m not pointing to anyone else. Do I really know God? Do I really believe in God? We can all stand up and recite the Creed, but even the demons know that Jesus is the Son of God. So, it’s not a question of wordy assertions, of intellectual or conceptual statements. You can know the Creed back to front but still not actually know God.
In our human relations, when you say you know someone, it has various meanings. It could be that you hear someone mention a name and you say, “Yes, I know that person.” But, looking at it a little more closely, in fact you don’t know them. You’ve heard their name before, perhaps, or you’ve had a superficial connection with them. Maybe you were at school with them years ago. Yet, we are very quick to say, “I know that person.” But do you really know them?
Husbands and wives are more likely to know each other. You can often hear them say of one another, “I know how he thinks. I know how she would react.” In other words, there is a knowing of someone which is far profounder, far deeper than the head. It goes to the heart. It goes deeper still to the depths of your being. It has the connotation of love. It means that you love them and are, in some real and profound sense, one with them.
So, how then are we to know God in that sense?
Our opening hymn was, “Be still and know that I am God.” These words are taken from a Psalm in the Old Testament. The great mothers and fathers of the Church, especially those who are experts in the spiritual life, tell us that we need to stand or sit or kneel still enough and for long enough so that we can get to know God. Yes, we can know about God from books and from theology. We can know about God from history. We can know about God from the Scriptures and from Creation. We can watch films about Jesus of Nazareth. All of that is good. All of it has its place. But to actually know God in person, “thou to Thou”, is itself a gift of God, and we have to stop, we have to be still, we have to seek silence. By silence, I am not talking just about the absence of external noise. While that’s important even for psychological sanity, silence is rather a deep awareness of the presence of God within us which is there even if there is a presence or absence of physical noise.
That’s why we have retreats. That’s why we need silence and prayerfulness at church. That’s why we need to seek out times of silence during the day. I know that can be difficult. Yet, we are very good at carving out time for other things. We’re very good at setting things up if we want to watch a film at a particular time. We’re very good at setting our timetables and our watches and our calendars for all the things that we like to do – and rightly so! Yet, the value of all these things risks evaporating if they are not grounded in knowing God, in being at one and at peace with Him. Indeed, they risk harming us if they in fact amount to avoiding God.
Hence, we need to factor time for God into the day. During this period when we are pretty much on permanent retreat (some of us seem to have become monks!), when we are locked down and locked up, here is a golden opportunity, maybe a God-given one, to come to know God or to know Him more deeply, to slow down, to put your foot on the brake to slow the speed of life and to be still. We need only say, “Lord, that I might know you. Lord, that I might love you.” Then, wait for Him. If you wait for Him, He will see you and He will say, “Good, here’s my chance! At last I’m getting an opportunity to enter more fully into the heart and mind and awareness of this child of mine that I have loved and created. At last they are giving me a chance to show myself to them, to show my love to them, to show my power and my presence in them whether they’re worried or sick or unsure about the future or in some state of terminal illness or whatever it is! Here is a chance for me to make myself known to them!” This won’t happen in one day. It will only happen gradually through the faithful practice every day, or every few days, of stillness and silence before the living God of our life.
We have to long for God. We have to search for God. No matter how good it was, we can’t just rely on the education we got when we were younger, or what we know of the catechism and of the bible and so on. Certainly we encounter God in the Bible, but not primarily by a lot of thinking and talking but by becoming silent and still, allowing the presence of God through the word of God to seep into the depths of our being. It’s a case of being still with the word.
If we don’t make the effort to know God, we will simply never know Him. It’s not going to happen by magic or if we deliberately wait until a few days before we die. Nobody wants to be called a liar of course, but Jesus doesn’t pull any punches: “You say you know God? You’re a liar!” That’s what he said to the Jews in today’s Gospel, because they were not willing to accept Him.
So, today we pray to the Lord Jesus to grant us the Holy Spirit of prayer, of deep and abiding stillness, of faithful daily practice insofar as we can, so that we can come to know in the depths of our hearts and souls the living God, who created us in love and destines us to live with Him for ever.