Thursday March 21, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading (Genesis 17:3-9) Gospel (St. John 8:51-59)
In the first reading today, we see a passage which is so important for the Jewish people; that is, the covenant with Abraham that God is going to make Abraham the father of many nations. But it is a covenant specifically so that he and his descendants after him will be the children of God, that God would be their God, and that he and his descendants after him would have to be faithful to the covenant that God is going to make with them. And so the Jewish people would always be able to look at themselves and call themselves the children of Abraham.
Yet now when Jesus speaks to these Jewish leaders, He could say to them, "Abraham saw My day and rejoiced." They understood exactly what He meant by this; that is, that He is God. "You are not even fifty," they said, "How could you have seen Abraham?" He said, "Before Abraham was, I AM." Recall, of course, that "I AM" in Hebrew would be "Yahweh". They understood that perfectly as they picked up stones to throw at Him because He had made Himself equal with God.
We also see in this passage, though, the importance of what Our Lord is telling them: that they were not faithful to the covenant that God would be their God and they would be His people. He says, "The very One whom you claim to be your God is the One who gives Me glory, but you do not know Him." Then he goes on to say, "If I said that I do not know Him, then I would be no better than you a liar." In other words, if we claim to know God but refuse to do His work, then we are liars. If we claim that we are children of God, but in essence we disown Him by our words and our actions, we have no part of God.
They were doing the same thing with Abraham: Counting on the fact that Abraham was their father, they were assured. That is like these Christians that say, "All you have to do is believe in Jesus and you’re going straight to Heaven." He [Jesus] says, "I assure you, I will say: ‘Out of my sight! I do not know who your are.’" We need to be very careful. It is not enough to be able to claim Jesus Christ or Abraham or the Father or anyone else; we have to do the work. If we are going to be members of the covenant of Abraham because we have the same faith as Abraham, then we have to act on the faith as Abraham did. If we are going to be children of our heavenly Father, then we need to do the work of our heavenly Father. And if we are going to be members of Jesus Christ, then we need to allow Jesus Christ to live in us and through us and to work in us and through us. It is not enough to make a sterile claim that we believe in Jesus. If we believe, then we need to act; otherwise, we are liars and we have no part of the Lord.
That is the point the Lord is making for us today. We have been incorporated into the covenant of Jesus Christ, the new and everlasting covenant. God is our God, and we are His children. But now the choice is ours. Do we want Him to be our God? Do we want to be His children? It is not enough to make the claim – we need to follow up that claim with our actions.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.