Tag Archives: Dabar

Word and Eternal Life

Andrei Rublev, Icon of the Most Holy Trinity

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 12:44-50

Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.

John 12:44-45

Jesus is not a one person mission. Again and again, he deferred all of his actions and words to the Father. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Most Holy Trinity depicts the Son and the Spirit looking toward the Father, the unbegotten origin of the Son and the Spirit. God is, of course, beyond spacetime; thus words like “unbegotten” and “origin,” derived from sensible experience, must be understood as pointers to an ineffable reality.

I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.

John 12:46

John’s Prologue introduces the Word of God who was “in the beginning with God” as Life and Light itself (John 1:1-5). 

And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.

John 12:47

Earlier in the Gospel, all judgment is given to the Son (John 5:22). Passages about judgment expose the core of the human heart. The voice of God in every heart provokes a search for flourishing. Fear of external judgment corresponds to an inner compass groping for Light, Life, Love, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. 

Jesus forgave his enemies from the Cross for they did not recognize him as the Son of God (Luke 23:34). But failure to recognize the Spirit of God, Jesus says, is inexcusable (Matthew 12:31-32). These puzzling Scriptures seem to point to the fundamental orientation of our heart toward the voice and Spirit of God—receptivity or rejection?1

Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.

John 12:48-49

The “word” (dabar) in Hebrew culture is loaded with significance. In Genesis, the word of God has the power to create, bringing light and life into being. A word of blessing, once given, could not be revoked (Genesis 27:1-46). Words have power to heal; they issue forth from the mouth of God to accomplish his purposes (Psalm 107:20; 147:15; Isaiah 55:11). God’s word is a living fire—a hammer that breaks rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23:29). 

In the Mosaic world, word and life (also law and life) are so closely intertwined that they are virtually indistinguishable:

When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, Take to heart all the words that I am giving in witness against you today, words you should command your children, that they may observe carefully every word of this law. For this is no trivial matter for you, but rather your very life; by this word you will enjoy a long life on the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 32:45-47

Jesus, the Word of God, offered himself to the world as Light and Life. A heart shriveled, closed to love, and sunk in darkness is a heart condemned. 

The words of Christ proceed from the Father, for “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

And I know that his commandment is eternal life. So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”

John 12:50

The new Moses elevated the equivalence of word and life to Word and Eternal Life. Jesus is the Word sent forth from the Father to heal and give life to a broken and dying world.

-GMC

1 More than conscience, the Spirit of God produces the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22).

I AM. Fear not!

Amédée Varin (1818-1883), Le Christ marchant sur la mer

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter

John 6:16-21

Darkness, turbulent waters, and a mighty wind threatened to capsize the disciples into the whirling vortex of chaos. The image recalls the antediluvian waters at the dawn of creation.

and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—

Genesis 1:2 (New American Bible Revised Edition)

The One who brings order out of disorder stepped out onto the surface of the deep. Fear struck the hearts of the disciples who, in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, thought they were seeing a ghost (Mark 6:49; Matthew 14:26).

“I AM. Fear not.” 

John 6:20

Egō eimi. The Greek words for “I AM” in John 6:20 match the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton in Exodus 3:14. The holy, almighty and ever living God—I AM WHO AM—is the Alpha and the Omega with a human voice and face in Jesus Christ. Moses parted the Red Sea by the power of God. Jesus commanded the wind and waves by his own power.

The Spirit of God in the Word of God pacified the waters as “in the beginning.”

And the earth was tohu vavohu (without form, and void); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (Orthodox Jewish Bible)

Innocent Job deluged by wave after wave of suffering extolled the God of all creation who “stretches out the heavens,” recalling Genesis 1:1, and “treads” or “walks on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8), anticipating the Son of God walking on water centuries later.

They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.

John 6:21

Many commentators, including St. John Chrysostom, have thought that this last statement needed reconciling with the accounts of Mark and Matthew which explicitly state that Jesus entered the boat. Reading the line with the lectio divina approach, however, Noah’s ark comes to mind. The Lord of all creation is neither in nor out of the ark, but encompasses all space and time and brings the boat safely to land, with the sign of the Spirit (an olive branch in the beak of a dove).

“I AM. Fear not.”

-GMC

Water and Spirit

Christina DeMichele, Christ Enthroned in His Creation (Used with permission)

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

John 3:7-15

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked Jesus (John 3:9). How can a person be “born of the Spirit?”

The youthful Mary had also asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary received the forthright response, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

Gabriel’s answer did not explain how in the scientific sense, but it named the agent of the miraculous Virgin birth. “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 

Nicodemus received a less clement response:

“You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.

John 3:11

Written in the last half of the first century, the Gospel of John was composed in the milieu of the tension between the early church and the synagogue. The shift to the plural, “you people,” seems to express a sorrowful gulf between Jesus and the community of teachers represented by Nicodemus.

The Torah is a window onto eternity. Nicodemus was expected to recognize the face of God and the works of the Spirit of God, given all his learning.

If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

John 3:12

The “I” of the Dabar/Logos/Word spoke “in the beginning”—Bereshitthe first word of the Torah. The entire book of Genesis is a record of God’s covenant love with humankind. The Lord God Almighty of Israel gave to Moses the gift of the Ten Commandments to guide his people in living a holy life on earth, paving the way to “heavenly things.” Through his mouthpiece, the prophets, the Lord God described himself as a king, shepherd, prince of peace, potter, father, lover, husband, mother, hen, Spirit, wind, breath, rock, fortress, tower, and more. By means of vibrant and colorful earthly images, God painted a splendid portrait of his character for Israel. 

Nevertheless, making the leap from the Torah to Christ was by no means self-evident. Nor is this dialogue with Jesus in the dark of night easily comprehended. Nicodemus speaks for all persons, past and present, in his perplexity. A survey of biblical commentaries on this passage reveals an abundance of varied and divergent interpretations. Nicodemus’ “How can this be?” continues to reverberate down the centuries. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 3:13-15

Jesus identified himself with the ladder of the holy patriarch Jacob-Israel (Genesis 28:12). The Greek verbs for ascending and descending in John 3:13 and the Greek Septuagint version of Genesis 28:12 are identical. 

Jesus also identified himself with the likeness of the poisonous serpent that healed the children of Israel in the desert (Numbers 21:9).1 Moses’ original action of “setting” the serpent on a pole becomes in the Messianic light an exaltation and glorification2 of the “Son of Man,” a self-referential term from the Psalms, Ezekiel, and Daniel that Jesus frequently used. The promised Messiah has come to heal the brokenhearted and bind up the wounded, and to send his Spirit to renew the face of the earth (Isaiah 61:1; Psalm 147:3; Luke 4:18; Psalm 104:30: Genesis 1:2).

The angel Gabriel’s answer to the Blessed Virgin Mary is the answer for all her children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ her Son. For the Woman whose womb waters were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit is a living symbol of the watery Womb of God the Father.

And the earth was tohu vavohu (without form, and void); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (Orthodox Jewish Bible)

From the Virgin Father’s Womb to the Virgin Mother’s womb, the creation and recreation of Adam and the earth are accomplished by “water and Spirit” (John 3:5).

We join Nicodemus in his journey from the nighttime of obscurity to the dawning light of faith in the resurrection of the Son of Man on the third day.

-GMC

1 See related post: Christ and the Bronze Serpent

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to John 3:14.