ago we began a little “Lenten series” looking at the Gospel of John, which is being featured in the Sunday Gospel readings during the next couple weeks of Lent this year. We began by learning about John’s seven “I Am” statements:
1. I am the gate (10:7, 9)
2. I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14)
3. I am the true vine (15:1-5)
4. I am the bread of life (6:35, 48)
5. I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5)
6. I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
7. I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)
Two weeks ago
, we learned that “I Am’ is the name of God as revealed by God himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14). When Jesus says “I am”, He is saying that He is God. Last week
we looked at how, apart from these seven statements, the Gospel of John makes it really clear that Jesus is God.
The Gospel of John is full of symbolism.
This is likely why there are only seven “I Am” statements (although in the Gospel, as we saw two weeks ago, John has Jesus saying some form of “I am” 46 times). Seven is a biblical number signifying perfection and completion. Some scholars even say that seven is the number of God. There are some 700 references to the number seven in Scripture: seven Jewish feasts; seven churches in the Book of Revelation; the Sabbath is the seventh day; Jubilee years happen after the 49th (7x7) year; there are seven miracles or signs in the Gospel of John. Add to that how the Church also uses the number seven: seven sacraments and seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, for example. A good exercise is to go through Scripture and find the many references to seven, in particular things that happen in seven days or on the seventh day.
So, it’s not a surprise that John only has seven “I Am” statements.
However, I am going to suggest that there are only seven because each one of these reveals a different aspect of how Jesus fulfills our deepest longings and each one represents a way in which Christ is present in our lives:
I am the bread of life: Jesus is not only the God who feeds us and who nurtures us but the actual food. Moses received manna in the desert, but God gives us Jesus, who is the bread that gives us life, the bread that forever takes away our hunger and thirst. When we eat this food that is Jesus’ flesh, we will never die. This is not only physical food but also spiritual food. Jesus fulfills our longing to be fed physically and spiritually. He fulfills this for us every time we open the Scriptures and receive the Eucharist.
I am the light of the world: Jesus is the God who scatters the darkness. This is what happens first when God creates the world (Genesis 1:1-5): “Let there be light.” Psalm 27:1 refers to God as “our light and our salvation.” God is the light that dispels chaos and creates order. In the Gospel of John there is a very clear duality between light and darkness, between night and day. Nicodemus comes to see Jesus “by night” (John 3:1-2). This is perhaps to illustrate the fact that Nicodemus was “in the dark” or that he could not cope with the light. In fact, in the opening hymn of the Gospel, there is a clear reference that the Word is life and life is light (John 1:3-4); therefore Jesus is the light that “shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). This is also the main theme in the story of the healing of the man born blind (John 9). Jesus fulfills our longing to see clearly and to know completely.
I am the gate: Jesus is the God who protects us. Sheep enclosures of the day (and some still today in the Middle East) did not have gates (or doors). Imagine a fenced-in area (they were built out of stones) with no gate; just an opening. Without a gate or door, the sheep will not stay inside. It was normal for the shepherd to lie in that opening, guarding the entrance. In this way, not only would he prevent the sheep from exiting, but more importantly he would prevent a thief or wild animal from entering. At the same time, this protection also provides a service to the sheep. Jesus fulfills our longing to be safe and secure. Furthermore, Jesus-the-gate calls us to be imitators of Him in protecting the weak and vulnerable, thus also fulfilling our longing to be of service.
I am the good shepherd: Jesus is the God who guides and leads us. Yes, He is the gate who protects us, He serves us, but He also is the shepherd who leads us into green pasture. In Psalm 23:1, God is the shepherd. God is also the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. This is God’s unconditional love to which we too are called. He is also the good shepherd who knows his sheep and the sheep know his voice. He is the good shepherd who (in laying down his life) will gather the whole world into one fold. Jesus fulfills our longing to belong and to be loved, to be cared for, and to know we are going in the right direction.
I am the resurrection and the life: Jesus is the God who conquers sin and death. Not only is Jesus the beginning of all, through whom all things were made (John 1:3), but also the one for whom death and sin are no match. No one who believes in him will ever die but will have eternal life. As frail humans, because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we are slaves to sin and subject to death. Jesus is the God who grieves when we fail and when we suffer and die, but He came so that we would be free and have life, and that we would have it abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus fulfills our longing not to be victims of death: to be free.
I am the way, the truth and the life: Jesus is the God of life who seeks us. He is the gateway to God. God-made-man, God incarnate, Emmanuel, is the mystery to finding and encountering the Father. Humans long to be with God yet are unable; therefore God becomes flesh and comes to be with us instead, to show us the way. He is the loving God who goes before us to pave the way, to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3). This is the Truth, and it is the Truth that sets us free and gives us life. Jesus fulfills our longing for Truth and our longing for life and to be alive.
I am the true vine: Jesus is the God who gives us life. What good is a branch if it is not attached to the tree, or to use a modern analogy, what good is a TV if it’s not plugged in to the power supply? Jesus is our life-source, our energy. He is the source of energy who keeps us healthy and growing. God heals us. He is also the connection that keeps us rooted. By the same “tree” analogy, in order for the branches to bear fruit, they must be pruned. Jesus is the God who separates the branches that bear no fruit from the ones that do. He is the judge. Jesus fulfills our longing to be healthy, to be fruitful, and to abide in God and have God abide in us.
Next Sunday we will hear the Gospel reading of the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). Jesus does not tell him that He is the Light of the world (he says it to his disciples at the beginning of the story, John 9:5), but I definitely imagine Him saying it. When the man confronts Jesus after he’s been healed (and been questioned by the Jewish Council) and tells him he doesn’t know who healed him, Jesus says, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you”
(John 9:37). Again, this is Jesus identifying himself as “I am” to the man.
This week consider this:
How are you blind? Where is there darkness in your life?
Jesus is the God who scatters the darkness. As we saw above, Jesus is the light that “shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”. Jesus fulfills our longing to see clearly and to know completely. At the same time, as we grow and mature, He calls us to help others see and to be light (Matthew 5:14-16) in a world that is so often covered in darkness.
Jesus, the Light of the World, wants us to see and to be a reflection of His light to others.
This third week of Lent, let’s go and do as He has done.
And come back next week so we can look at how Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life!
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: email@example.com