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.”
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.
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).
Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.
The Gospel of John calls special attention to Cana, the location of the first and second “signs” (sémeion) revealing Jesus as the Messiah to Israel. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the wedding feast at Cana (first sign), and the healing of the royal official’s son (second sign) are all connected in the Gospel.
In the light of the protological account of Genesis, the three episodes can be seen as the renewal of the primordial waters of creation, the transformation and divinization of all flesh in Christ (water into wine), and the restoration of a son to a father (Abel to Adam).
Cana and Cain are etymologically related, and it is in this town that Jesus revealed his glory at the instigation of “Woman.” Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and new Eve, are the archetypes of Man and Woman (Ish and Ishshah in Hebrew) at the dawn of creation.
Jesus addresses Mary as “Woman” twice in John’s Gospel—at the wedding feast at Cana and at the foot of the Cross (John 2:4; John 19:26). The appellation recalls Adam’s acclamation when presented with Eve:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.”
In the recreation of the world, Ish is taken out of Ishshah in the Virgin birth of Christ. Jesus and Mary redeemed the world as “one flesh,” the former as God, and the latter as the Mother of God, chosen by grace.
3 Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34. In Middle Eastern culture, the bride and bridegroom prepare for the wedding with a special bath.
4 John 2:4 in Greek: “What [is that] to me and to you, Woman?”
5 John 2:5.
6Ima is mom in Aramaic/Hebrew. Click here for the pronunciation of Ima.
7Yayin is wine in Hebrew. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of yayin.
8 The “royal official” (basilikos) in John 4:46, literally translated from the Greek, is “little king.” In the story of Genesis, Adam (a type of Christ) is also a little king.
9 The Gospel writer specifies the “seventh” hour as the time when the fever left the boy (John 4:52). According to HELPS Word-studies, hébdomos (seventh) is a figure of God’s perfect, finished work. The New American Bible (Revised Edition) loses the religious significance by translating it, “one in the afternoon.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus’ description of the Father’s impartial love takes its inspiration from the sun and the rain— natural phenomena devoid of passion, and blind to merits and demerits. Divine love energizes all living beings regardless of their response to their Creator. Even the “enemies” of God exist because he continually sustains them in being.
In the light of Christ’s merciful words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), it becomes clear that his clashes with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests were manifestations of divine love. No malediction ever issued from his lips.
Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you? Those who rise against you, do I not loathe? With fierce hatred I hate them, enemies I count as my own.
Jesus, the Son of David, knew and prayed the “cursing” Psalms in the Hebrew tradition, but showed by his life the ultimate end of the psalmist’s prayer. Christ drove all curses into himself on the Cross, assumed blame for human sin, and expired with benediction on his lips.
The second Adam reversed the finger-pointing of the first couple in the garden of Eden who blamed the serpent, the woman, and ultimately God. Jesus, though blameless and innocent, assumed the punishment of the lawbreaker and transformed culpability into love.
Pure, disinterested love desires the good of others without distinction, seeing all persons as one in Christ. St. Maximos the Confessor writes:
The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion knows no distinction between his own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. Having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of man, he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For him there is “neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free man, but Christ is everything in everything” (Gal 3:28).1
Sunrise and sunset, Showers and snow Fructify seedbed Of friend and foe.
Both just and unjust Are rolled from clay— Divinely-breathed dust— Pearl of God’s play.
God sees all children As his own Son, Victims and villains On the Cross won.
1 St. Maximos the Confessor, Chapters on Love II.30.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Asking, seeking, and knocking presuppose desire. In some wisdom traditions, desire is the root of suffering and must be extinguished in order to be liberated, but in the protological account of human origins in Genesis, desire is presented as primordial—an energy that must be directed in accordance with the Law of Knowledge and Life to blossom into godlikeness.
The serpent’s temptation to Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit contained a partial truth: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Jesus said to the Jews, quoting Psalm 82:6, Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? (John 10:34)
Early Christian writers like St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Gregory of Nazianzus believed that Adam and Eve were created in an intermediate state, with the potentiality for deification and infallible knowledge hinging on obedience to the commandment.
St. Ephrem writes:
For had the serpent been rejected, along with the sin, they would have eaten of the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge would not have been withheld from them any longer; from the one they would have acquired infallible knowledge, and from the other they would have received immortal life. They would have acquired divinity in humanity; and had they thus acquired infallible knowledge and immortal life they would have done so in this body.1
St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes:
This being He placed in paradise… And He gave him a Law, as material for his free will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the Tree of Knowledge; not, however, because it was evil from the beginning when planted; nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to men—let not the enemies of God wag their tongues in that direction, or imitate the serpent. But it would have been good if partaken of at the proper time; for the Tree was, according to my theory, Contemplation, which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter upon; but which is not good for those who are still somewhat simple and greedy; just as neither is solid food good for those who are yet tender and have need of milk.2
The primordial desire to “be like gods” is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who deified Adam by his Incarnation, obedience unto death, and resurrection.
Asking, seeking, and knocking is the process of walking hand in hand with the Father as his child in his only-begotten Son, and receiving freely the fruit of wisdom and life from the Spirit.
If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
The syllabic count in the following poem adds up to fifty—the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church. ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK are 3, 4, and 5 letter words, and their respective stanzas consist of 3, 4, and 5 syllable lines.
32 + 42 + 52 = 50 syllables
Adam’s son, Son of God, King and Priest
Strolls with Abba— Eden enfleshed— Eating fruit of Knowledge and Life.
Kingdom of Heaven, Nucleus within, Offers orisons: Come, Holy Spirit, Kingdom come on Earth.
1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis II.23, in St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 214. St. Ephrem’s view is also found in the Palestinian Targum tradition at Genesis 3:22 and in Nemesius, On the Nature of Man 5. See Brock’s introduction (footnote 39).
The land where Jesus lived spoke to him and inspired so many of the parables he taught. Did the water speak to him too? Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized Mark’s Gospel says, and he heard his Father’s voice and the Spirit rested on him. His ministry continued around the Sea of Galilee. The towns he visited were there; he taught on its shores. He traveled its waters and encountered its storms. He called disciples there.
Pilgrims today still look quietly on those waters when they visit this holy place. From the mountains above, the Sea of Galilee becomes a stage for gospel stories heard before. The waters of the Jordan flowing into it and out on their way to the Dead Sea remind them how realistic the mysteries of faith are. Fishermen, along with cormorants and herons, still fish the waters. At night, a stillness centuries old, takes over.
.Jesus began his ministry here. This land and its waters spoke to him.
The Jordan River figures in many of scriptures’ sacred stories and it’s still vital to this land today. It winds almost 200 miles from its sources at the base of the Golan mountains in the north into the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea in the south. The direct distance from one end to the other is only about 60 miles. The river falls almost 3,000 feet on its way to the Dead Sea,.
The Jordan is sacred to Jews from the time they miraculously crossed it on their way to the Promised Land. The great Jewish prophet Elijah came from a town near the river’s banks. Later he found safety from his enemies there.
Elijah’s successor, the Prophet Elisha, also from the Jordan area, told Naaman a Syrian general to bathe in the river to be cured of his leprosy, and he was cured. Ancient hot springs near Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee fostered the river’s curative reputation then. They’re still used today.
At the time of Jesus, the river’s fresh flowing waters were the life-blood of the land, making the Sea of Galilee teem with fish and the plains along its banks fertile for agriculture. Pilgrims from Galilee were guided by the Jordan on their way to Jericho and then to Jerusalem and its temple.
The Jordan Today
The river is still essential to the region. Lake Kineret, as the Israelis call the Sea of Galilee, is the primary source of drinking water for the region and crucial for its agriculture. The use of water from the Jordan is a major point of controversy between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The Jordan nourished prophets in the past. Somewhere near Jericho where people forded the river John the Baptist preached to and baptized pilgrims going to the Holy City. The place where John baptized was hardly a desert as we think of it. It was a deserted place that offered sufficient food for survival, like the “ grass-hoppers and wild honey” John ate, but this uncultivated place taught you to depend on what God provided.
Jesus taught this too. “I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Mt 6, 25 ff) The desert was a place to put worry aside and trust in the goodness of God.
When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, he acknowledged his heavenly Father as the ultimate Source of Life, the creator of all things. Water, as it always is, was a holy sign of life. Like the prophets Elijah and John the Baptist, Jesus remained in this wilderness near the water for forty days to prepare for his divine mission. He readied himself to depend on God for everything.
The Jordan after Jesus
Later, when the Roman empire turned Christian in the 4th century, Christians came to the Jordan River in great numbers on Easter and on the Feast of the Epiphany to remember the One who was baptized there. They went into the sacred waters, and many took some of it home in small containers.
Early Christian pilgrims like Egeria, a nun from Gaul who came to the Holy Land around the year 415 AD, left an account of her visit to the Jordan where she looked for the place of Jesus’ baptism. Monks who had already settled near the river brought her to a place called Salim, near Jericho. The town, associated with the priest Melchisedech, was surrounded by fertile land which had a revered spring that flowed into the Jordan close by. Here’s how she described it:
“We came to a very beautiful fruit orchard, in the center of which the priest showed us a spring of the very purest and best water, which gives rise to a real stream. In front of the spring there is a sort of pool where it seems that St. John the Baptist administered baptism. Then the saintly priest said to us: ‘To this day this garden is known as the garden of St. John.’ There are many other brothers, holy monks coming from various places, who come to wash in that spring.
“The saintly priest also told us that even today all those who are to be baptized in this village, that is in the church of Melchisedech, are always baptized in this very spring at Easter; they return very early by candlelight with the clergy and the monks, singing psalms and antiphons; and all who have been baptized are led back early from the spring to the church of Melchisedech.” p 73
A 19th Century Pilgrim at the Jordan
Christians in great numbers have visited the Jordan River since Egeria. Towards the end of the 19th century, an English vicar, Cunningham Geikie, described Christian pilgrims following the venerable tradition of visiting its waters.
“Holy water is traditionally carried away by ship masters visiting the river as pilgrims to sprinkle their ships before a voyage; and we are told that all pilgrims alike went into the water wearing a linen garment, which they sacredly preserved as a winding sheet to be wrapped around them at their death.
“The scene of the yearly bathing of pilgrims now is near the ford, about two miles above the Dead Sea, each sect having its own particular spot, which it fondly believes to be exactly where our Savior was baptized…
“Each Easter Monday thousands of pilgrims start, in a great caravan, from Jerusalem, under the protection of the Turkish government; a white flag and loud music going before them, while Turkish soldiers, with the green standard of the prophet, close the long procession. On the Greek Easter Monday, the same spectacle is repeated, four or five thousand pilgrims joining in the second caravan. Formerly the numbers going to the Jordan each year was much greater, from fifteen to twenty thousand….”(Cunningham Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible,Vol 2, New York, 1890 pp 404-405)
The Jordan and Christian Baptism
Today, every Catholic parish church at its baptistery celebrates the mystery of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan as new believers receive new life and regular believers remember their own baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some eastern Christian churches prefer calling their baptisteries simply “the Jordan.”
Today the most authentic site of Jesus’ Baptism, according to archeologists, is in Jordanian territory at el-Maghtas, where a large church and pilgrim center has been built following excavations begun in 1996 by Jordanian archeologists. It is probably the “Bethany beyond the Jordan” mentioned in the New Testament where Jesus was baptized and John the Baptist preached.
The Jordan River offers a commentary on the mystery of death and resurrection of Jesus, expressed in his baptism. At one end of the river is the Sea of Galilee brimming with life, and at the other end is the Dead Sea a symbol of death. The river holds these two realities together, and if we reverse its course we can see the gift God gives us through Jesus Christ.
Like him, we pass through the waters of baptism from death to life.
The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.
The Lord God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him. So the Lord God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man.
So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.
The protological account of the first marriage in Genesis to which Jesus refers is a model and standard by which to measure the law of Moses and accommodations for divorce up to the present day. It acknowledges an ideal placed in the human heart, even if fallen human beings fail to achieve it. Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, came to heal fractured humanity and will always remain one with her.
God’s creation is always fruitful and life-giving, from plant and animal life, to married and consecrated life.
He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
The word “universe” in this couplet stands for “flesh” (Hebrew basar and Greek sarx), as used in the Genesis Flood account and in John’s Prologue. All “flesh” is destroyed in the flood and saved in the ark in the recreation of the world after the Fall (Genesis 6:13; 17; 19). With the coming of Christ, a new “beginning,” the Word became “flesh,” divinizing humanity and the cosmos (John 1:14). The Holy Spirit conceived the Word as a microscopic seed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and continues to nurture and expand the Mystical Body of Christ throughout the world.
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Jesus respected the freedom of his disciples. Without coercion, they were free to accept his words and stay, or leave.
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?
Jesus was not looking for popularity or concerned about public image. On the way to the Cross, he stood to gain nothing and lose everything. As a fisher of men, he cast into the sea a most offensive bait (skandalizó—“shock”). When the fish began dispersing, Jesus made no attempt to make his bait more palatable or attractive, but reiterated his claim to be “from heaven” and “from above” (John 6:38; 3:13).
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
In the protohistory of Genesis, human lifespans were curtailed when the LORD withdrew his spirit from flesh after a limited duration.
Then the Lord said: My spirit shall not remain in human beings forever, because they are only flesh. Their days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years.
After the rise and fall of multiple civilizations from the time of the Flood, the complexification of human cultures made the divine simplicity of “spirit and life” seem very remote.
But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
No amount of theologizing will produce a satisfactory theory of human freedom in the face of divine love. Much of what Jesus claims does not fall into neat, rational categories. Jesus presents himself as he is, granting everyone the freedom to follow or depart.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
This statement may vex those accustomed to striving and achieving goals by human effort. Following Jesus, however, is not an achievement, but a gift of faith from the Father. But if faith is wanting, is the Father to be blamed? Such a conclusion is inadmissible.
The Cross is evidence that Jesus values our freedom even more than his own life. He is the polar opposite of a tyrant. Freedom and love are inseparable.
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Unless Jesus was who he claimed to be, his statements were certainly wild and preposterous. From a natural perspective, the son of Joseph and Mary, born in a particular place and time, was destined to live and die like all human beings. Nothing about Jesus’ appearance suggested that he was a heavenly being.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.
The new Moses echoed his predecessor by chiding the children of Israel for murmuring and grumbling just at the time when God promised manna in the desert (Exodus 16:2; 7-8; LXX—same verb as in John 6:43).
“Whoever comes to me will never hunger,” Jesus said (John 6:35), but
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.
Like a chain of magnets, the uncreated person of the Father draws all created persons to himself through the uncreated person of his Son, including all flesh (sarx) and the cosmos (kosmos).
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
Creation has an in-built force of attraction towards her LORD and Maker. In the beginning (Genesis 1:1), the shalom of God filled the heavens and the earth. Shalom means wholeness and completeness through communion with the LORD God, the basis of integral peace. In a shalom-filled world, all creatures move gracefully in synergy with the Spirit of God.
It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Like the second Adam, the first Adam in the Garden of Eden enjoyed an unmediated sonship in the Father, “walking” (halak) and talking with him in familiarity and intimacy. Yet only the uncreated Son “sees” (horaó) the Father in his plenitude exceeding the capacity of finite creatures. God alone “comprehends” God.
Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.
Believing (pisteuó) goes far deeper than having right ideas about God and religion. Many who had a formidable knowledge of Scripture and theology did not believe Jesus. Only a genuine personal encounter leads to faith (pistis, the noun form of pisteuó).
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living (zaó) bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live (zaó) forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh (sarx) for the life (zóé) of the world (kosmos).”
Manna was provisional and a pointer to the tree of life to come from Abraham and Adam. The repetition of zóé (noun) and zaó (verb) which are cognate recall the words of the LORD God about the tree of life:
Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life (zóé), and eats of it and lives (zaó) forever?
The Greek Septuagint version matches the words of Christ in the Gospel of John concerning the bread from heaven that bestows eternal life. Zóé in the Greek lexical universe indicates the fullness of life beyond mere physical existence, in fact, participation in the divine life. It is sharply distinguished from bios or biological, earthly existence.
The original Hebrew word for life in Genesis 3:22, chay, includes divine, human, animal, and vegetative life as a whole—a concept that resonates with shalom. The Hebrew mind did not make the sharp distinctions between spirit and matter that characterized Hellenistic philosophy. In the beginning—bereshit, the opening word of the Torah in Genesis 1:1—God, Adam, and the cosmos were one.
Restoration of shalom encompasses heaven and earth, all flesh and the cosmos. The eating and drinking Jesus risen in the flesh epitomizes shalom. Every division is overcome in the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.