11 April, 2019

[They said:]“Now we know that you have a demon… Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

~ John 8:52,58 ~

In today’s Gospel we read of the ongoing dispute between Jesus and the religious authorities, who thought that he is mad [“you have a demon”] because he self-identifies with God the Father. Most Biblical scholars see this as an ongoing theme of John’s Gospel: Jesus as the Eternal Logos (or Word) or in theological language the Son of God or Second Person of the Christian Trinity.

But what might it say to us today? Particularly if our life is not driven by theological debates around the Trinity?

Let us look at how the authorities behave: they call Jesus mad. Not just mad, they say he is possessed. It’s a quick and easy way to dismiss his claims. Before we get overly righteous and condemn them for it, let us consider how we treat those with whom we disagree or who say things we don’t want to hear. It is much easier to attack or dismiss the messenger than to engage with the message.

But writing people off like that is not wise. Although, granted, people talk nonsense all the time (especially on social media!), it is dangerous to simply dismiss what we don’t like until we’ve weighed the evidence. All claims must be examined to see if they at least contain a grain of truth, however uncomfortable.

And what of Jesus’s response?

There is a subtle word play going on in Jesus’ comment above. If we imagine him saying this in his context, the language he would have used was probably Hebrew or Aramaic. The double meaning would be obvious – the ‘I am’ (or ‘I AM’ as some Bibles render it) could be both his reaffirmation of his divine Sonship and a direct reference to God. (The name God gave to Moses at the burning bush).

Reacting to them, he turns their authority (Abraham) against them, citing a more important authority: God. In essence, if we accept my claim to the double meaning of I AM, he is inviting them, and us, to go back to the Primary Source.

It’s a lesson to us all when we get into disputes and are tempted to dismiss unwelcome contributions to a debate. Do we go back to primary sources to seek the truth?


Lord, Help me in this world of fake-news, and alternative facts to always seek the Truth. Help me to always put a good construction on my neighbour’s argument and to always seek the Truth, which ultimately comes from You, Lord. Give me the grace to understand before I judge, and to always do so, with intelligence and charity. Amen.


Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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