"Amen, Amen, I Say to You, Before Abraham Was, I AM" (Lenten Scriptural Commentary #37)
by Erik Ritland
"God has always chosen the lowly to level the playing field, to let the powerful and wordly wise know that it isn’t all about them, to let the poor and lowly know that they are on equal footing with them."
Fully Alive’s Lenten Scriptural Commentary helps Christians get more out of Lent by taking God’s word seriously.
Mostly avoiding personal stories and anecdotes, our commentary dives deeply into the scripture readings for each day and applies them to the broader context of Lent. We use the daily Mass readings from the Catholic lectionary.
If possible, read each passage slowly, taking in each word. If you find that you’ve hurried through a reading, read it over a few more times. Let the words reverberate in your heart. After you’ve let it sink in, read our Lenten Scriptural Commentary.
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
God’s shocking statement to Abraham, Jesus’ shocking statement to the Jewish people of His time - and to us.
Readings: Gn 17:3-9/Jn 8:51-59
Click here to read the complete text from the USCCB website
When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him:
"My covenant with you is this:
you are to become the father of a host of nations.
No longer shall you be called Abram;
your name shall be Abraham,
for I am making you the father of a host of nations.
I will render you exceedingly fertile;
I will make nations of you;
kings shall stem from you.
I will maintain my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
throughout the ages as an everlasting pact,
to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
(cf. Gn 17: 3-9)
When it comes to “the least of these,” Abraham was right up there. An aged nomad with no children whose wife was barren, he was about the last person anybody would expect God to create a great nation from. But as Jesus says, “with God, anything is possible.”
More to the point, St. Paul says that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor. 1: 27-29). God has always chosen the lowly to level the playing field, to let the powerful and wordly wise know that it isn’t all about them, to let the poor and lowly know that they are on equal footing with them.
Without this equalization, humanity becomes brutish, tribal animals.
So the Jews said to him,
"You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM."
So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.
(cf. Jn 8: 51-59)
The chapters of John that we read in these final weeks of Lent can be puzzling. They were puzzling to Jesus’ original audience, to those who first wrote them down and read them, and to us today.
This reading, however, is very clear. Jesus declares that He is “I AM” – that He is equal to God the Father. Not surprisingly, this scandalous, seemingly blasphemous statement is not taken well by the Jews of Jesus’ time.
After all, if Jesus was not God, what He was saying was indeed blasphemy of the highest order.
But if Jesus is God, this is the truth that sets us free.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. The founder of Fully Alive Christian Media, he also created The Minnesota Sport Ramble and is a writer and copy editor for Music in Minnesota. He was Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
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Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.