When we were studying sacred scripture in the seminary, we learned that the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels—a word that means “looking alike” and that the gospel according to John is notably different from those three. One of the characteristic marks of Saint John is that he starts with a simple event and uses it as a stepping-stone to the heights of theology.
We have such a passage in today’s Mass. Our Lord heals a man who has been unable to walk for thirty-eight years. After he has cured him, Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and go home. Ah, but there is a problem: it was the sabbath, when according to the hair-splitting Pharisees, it was forbidden to carry anything as large or heavy as a sleeping mat. They accuse the man of violating the laws of the sabbath and therefore of committing sin. And, because Jesus had told him to do so, Our Lord is also guilty of violating the sabbath and committing sin. Now let us look at the number of concepts that have already entered into this little event. There is sickness, there is healing, there is the sabbath, there is virtue; there is sin. And, because good health is a form of the fullness of life and sickness is related to death, we have life and death in the event. Then, to add insult to injury, Our Lord tells his accusers that he is simply doing what his father does, and it is obvious that God is his father whom he is imitating and following. A person cannot speak of “my father” unless he or she shares the nature of that father. So to call God “my father” is tantamount to Jesus’s saying, “I am God.” For the Pharisees, that is absolutely unacceptable, heretical, wicked, evil, arrogant, and intolerable. They have got to get rid of this man who calls God “his father.” If he were a mentally ill man who went around saying “God is my Father” that could be ignored. But when this man shows himself able to perform very visible miracles, he becomes a real danger—a threat to the Pharisees and their theology, and he must be destroyed. But of course, to approach Jesus’s death is also to approach Jesus’s resurrection which occurred about 40 hours after his death. And so new and eternal life enters into his discussion with his enemies.
Today let us adore our Lord who is the Son of God, the Son of Man, the source of life, both natural and supernatural, both temporal and eternal, the source of judgment, by whom we learn what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong, and the perfect imitator of God the Father which makes him the greatest of the saints.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world, and by your resurrection you have brought us endless hope and joy! Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: Father Brown composed this message some years ago.