It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Before going into the whole “I Am” theology, which is beautiful, let’s focus a few moments on Jesus’ statement, “You say [the Father] is your God. Yet you have not known Him.” Once again, Jesus is being offensive. How dare someone go up to another person and say, “Yeah, I know you say you understand and know God, as a Father, but you don’t really know Him. But I do.” Isn’t this the basis for divisions and denominationalism? Isn’t Jesus “building walls,” as Pope Francis, Christ’s supposed vicar, keeps telling us we shouldn’t do?
The typical liberal way of dealing with such “offensive” verses is to write them off as laid down by the patriarchal, apostolic church. But for all those racist, sexist, homophobic, white men telling us what Jesus said – otherwise known as the Bible – we’d get the true, historical Jesus and his true, historical words. And what words are those? Well, of course, they’re whatever Jesus said that supports progressivism. The closer a word of Jesus (ahem, found in the Bible) says something to the effect of, “Just love and tolerate others, do justice, and feed the marginalized,” the more likely it is a candidate for inclusion in “what Jesus really taught.”
Those of a more subtle, Gnostic character will claim the apostolic witness represents the organizing of Jesus’ teaching in a particular framework which fosters the perspective of “this world’s god,” the chief Archon. What sort of framework is that? One that emphasizes names, dogma, borders, delineations, “this is true; this is false” ways of thinking, etc. In other words, a framework that, again, builds walls. By these terms, pretty much all of Scripture save a few random seemingly esoteric words of Jesus melts away.
Of course, this is bunk. And it would be hard to write off John’s witness of Jesus in today’s words. Jesus is teaching the mystery of the Trinity and drawing out the implications of it. To know God is to know Jesus. This is oft repeated in the New Testament. The concept of knowing God through someone/something else is laid down in the Old Testament. If someone wants to write off this teaching, he has to write off the entire Scriptures and invent a Christianity based on a projection of his own heart and mind. So enough of that. Jesus has built a wall. It’s a wall that says, “Only on my property, within these walls, do you truly know God. And those walls are my flesh and blood.”
Now, to the I Am.
In fact, the I Am lays down the entire foundation for “building walls”! We go to the beginning. After the Lord God created ex nihilo the matter that makes up our universe, He sent His Word – His “Let there be” (which is grammatically related to “I Am”; it’s what happens if you apply what belongs to One to cause something else to be; for instance, “I run. Let you run.” – into it, by the Holy Spirit, to divvy and divide up the material into various beings – to build walls, say, between this star and that star, the sun and moon, the birds and fishes, etc. Each being is a reflection of God, like a three dimensional speech He’s giving, each being communicating something about our creator.
Imagine there’s someone behind you about whom you don’t know. You turn around, you see his face, he speaks with you, gives you his name, and provides lots of bodily movement to supplement his words with non-verbal cues. After some time, there now exists for you something which previously did not exist, we might call it a communion, or community – based on communication (the word!) with this person. The evangelicals would call it a “relationship,” although (Nestorians that they are) it’s something more than two beings “related” to one another like planks of plywood. No, the two beings commune in objective quanta of conceptual stuff sourced by each. There’s a “communi-” going on!
And again, the basis for this “communi” is really the Word. Faces and actions deliver a lot, but only communication creates the communion of persons and lays the basis for community. And what of this word? Each word delivers something about us. Each word is a reflection of who we are in our inner person. Of course, with the fall there’s a lot of Babel-perversion going on, but that is our divine image and we still have this image at the foundation of our beings.
Well, our Lord Himself laid the foundation for this. By Him sending forth His “I Am” into the formlessness and void, He caused “I Am” to be multiplied, that is, for new beings (by grace, not by nature like Jesus) to in essence be able to say “I am too now!” Jesus is the foundational I Am. He’s the I Am at the source of it all. This is why all things are held together in Him, and why we confess that all things were made through Him. The creation is God’s lexicon, and as we participate in that lexicon – Adam naming the beings and we communicating them – we reflect the image of God.
Let’s back up for a moment and keep things simple. Jesus is the life of particular, individual beings. To say “I am” is to be alive. It’s as simple as that. Now notice the importance of “walls” to life. I can’t know life outside of certain walls in which is “me” and outside of which is “not me.” Those walls are my flesh and blood. Jesus, the “I Am,” is the basis for this truth.
Like someone (Chesterton?) said, if you see an old fence, before tearing it down you might want to find out why it was put there in the first place. Or as the saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” No fuzzifying between beings and properties as there arises confusion where one ends and another begins, and then conflict.
There’s more that the Gospel of John gives us in particular about the “I Am.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus fills out this idea what it means. In His re-creative role, redeeming the creation, He seven times lays down an “I Am” – just as in the beginning God laid down seven days of “let there be” – that lay down the elements which rebuild the cosmic architecture of the new creation. These are bread, a vine, a door, a shepherd, a path, a light, and the resurrection. These are the elements of the new creation and these are the Church: Holy Communion (bread/vine); Holy Baptism (door/resurrection); Minister (shepherd); and the Word (path/light).
Once again, these “I Am” infused elements send out from the Lord God and share their “I Am”ness with us, formless and void that we are. It causes us to be new creations, prepared for the eternal Sabbath Day, the eternal rest in the New Eden.