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“I AM”

Jesus’ response to the priests and council identified him as truly God.

By: Jeanne Kun

“I AM”: Jesus’ response to the priests and council identified him as truly God. by Jeanne Kun

Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none.

For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. . . .

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. (Mark 14:55-64; 15:1)

Unlike the other gospel writers, John did not describe Jesus’ anguished prayer in Gethsemane. Nonetheless, earlier in this gospel, Jesus’ struggle with his impending death, and his assent to his Father’s plan of salvation, are recounted by the Evangelist: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27-28; see also 10:18). Now we encounter Jesus in the garden, ready to go forward with resolve and spiritual and moral strength to meet Judas and his captors. As if to emphasize this treacherous breach of friendship, John notes that Judas knew where to find Jesus—as one of the apostles, the betrayer had often been in Gethsemane with Jesus (see 18:2).

The soldiers who came to arrest Jesus were armed, yet Jesus is the one who dominates the scene. With calm authority—even majesty— he confronted the guards first, asking “Whom are you looking for?” To their reply, “Jesus the Nazorean,” he responded with the deeper truth of his divinity, “I am” (John 18:3-5, New American Bible).

When God told Moses his “personal” name “I am” in the encounter in the burning bush (see Exodus 3:13-14), he was revealing his divine Person, his nature and his character. The Hebrew phrase ’ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh is usually translated as “I am who I am,” expressing absolute being, or as “I will cause to be what I will cause to be,” which includes a sense of causality, that is, the principle of cause and effect. Yet no translation is entirely satisfactory: “This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is—infinitely above everything that we can understand” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 206). By stating this name as his own, Jesus was clearly identifying himself as God.

Even as Jesus gave himself over voluntarily to his passion, he cared for his disciples. Earlier he had declared that none of his own would be lost except Judas (see John 6:39; 17:12). Although this was primarily an assurance that they would be protected from eternal punishment, Jesus was also concerned for his followers’ immediate safety. Like a shepherd protecting his flock from wolves and brigands (see 10:7- 13), Jesus negotiated their release: “If you are looking for me, let these men go” (18:8). Matthew (26:56) and Mark (14:50) note that the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested—most likely this was after Jesus had made sure that they would not be seized by the soldiers.

The Jewish authorities had long sought to do away with Jesus (see Matthew 26:3-5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2; John 7:1, 30, 32; 11:57). Now Jesus was brought captive before the chief priests and the Jewish council known as the Sanhedrin in an irregular nighttime meeting, probably to avoid rousing the opposition of those who supported the popular rabbi. The hearing initially focused on charges regarding what Jesus had said about the Temple. Jesus’ disruption of the commerce in the Temple precincts (see John 2:15-18) and his allusion to the Temple’s destruction (see 2:19-21) were a threat to the authorities who controlled and profited from the enterprise of the Temple. Jesus did not respond to the conflicting witnesses and misinterpretation of his words; his silence recalls Isaiah’s prophecy: “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, / and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, / so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

When he failed to obtain concurring testimony against Jesus, Caiaphas tried to back Jesus into a corner where he would convict himself with his own words. Pressing on to the crux of the matter, the high priest asked him directly, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61). To deny being the Christ would contradict all that Jesus had said and done, but if he said yes, his answer would be interpreted as blasphemy, an insult to God’s name, and a capital crime, punishable by death (see Leviticus 24:16).

Jesus’ reply was unhesitating and unambiguous: “I am” (Mark 14:62). Ironically, it was at this climatic moment, when he seemed most powerless, that Jesus’ true identity became apparent: he was not a political messiah-king who had come to overthrow Israel’s oppressors but Yahweh’s “Suffering Servant” (see Isaiah 52:13–53:12). And it is this suffering Messiah—the “Son of Man” and our redeemer— who now sits at the right hand of God and whose kingdom will last forever (see Mark 14:62; Daniel 7:13-14).

What does God’s name “I am” mean to you personally? How are we able to have a personal relationship with God when he remains such a mystery to us?

This is a selection from Jesus’ Journey to the Cross by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, 2009). Available at wau.org/books

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