Reading (Isaiah 49:8-15) Gospel (St. John 5:17-30)
We hear in the first reading today, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, about the love and the mercy of God, that God will never forget us, that He will never be without tenderness toward us, and that even in the face of all of our sins He gives us His own Son to be a covenant. He says, “I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people for the very purpose of restoring the land and allotting the desolate heritages, speaking to the prisoners and to those in darkness, and pasturing the people,” – all of these points that Our Lord has come to do for us.
In the Gospel reading, then, Our Lord is telling us precisely what it is that He is doing: that He speaks to those who are in death, that He has made Himself (as we see very clearly, He is the Son of the Father) equal to the Father, telling us that the Son has to be honored just as the Father is honored. And so He is the One who is going to judge; He is the One who shepherds the people; He is the One who speaks to those who are in death, those who are in darkness. Those who hear His voice will be saved, and those who reject His voice will rise for the resurrection of condemnation.
But it is important to be able to recognize for us that He is the only means – there is no other; Jesus Christ alone is the means to salvation for us. He alone is that covenant, which God has given to us and He has made with us. So it is through that covenant that we have salvation. The covenant for us is not written on stone; the covenant is not merely a promise that God has made as He did with the others; the covenant is Jesus Christ; the covenant is the Son of God. So it is a living covenant that we are in, and when we were incorporated into the covenant, we were incorporated into Christ, which is why if we follow Him, if we listen to Him, we have life with Him. And as the Father has life in Himself and gives life to whom He wills, so also the Son has been given life by the Father so that He will give life to whom He wills. If we follow the Son, if we are obedient to the Son, if we unite ourselves with the Son of God, we have life. Not by ourselves, not through anything we have done by ourselves, but we have life in and through Him.
That is the key to this whole thing: to understand that our covenant is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ; and the covenant is nothing less than life, eternal life, the life of God in this world – which is sanctifying grace within our souls so that we share in the life and the work and the person of Christ – and eternal life forever. That is what is held out for us in this covenant. And so Our Lord came down to us, living in darkness and the shadow of death, and He spoke. He is that Word. If we are willing to listen to that Word and hear His voice then we have life. As He has life because of the Father, we have life because of Him. And as He can do nothing of Himself but does only what He sees the Father doing, so also He tells us we can do nothing by ourselves but we are to do what we see Him doing. That is what it means to be incorporated into this covenant, to be part of the Body of Christ, to live the life of Christ, and to allow Christ to live in us and through us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.