Friday, May 03, 2013

“Show us the Father” – Brief reflection on John 14: 6-14

Brethren, Peace and Good to all of you.

Today we remember the holy apostles Phillip and Nathaniel. Phillip in particular had a memorable intervention in John’s Gospel which is the one read at Mass today (John 14: 6-14):

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him."

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."

Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'?

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

These verses reflect the beauty and the depth so much present throughout the soaring Gospel of John. These from today’s Mass in particular caught my special attention:

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him."

God’s Eternal Image of Himself

Why is the Father known in Jesus? This is because Jesus reflects the Father perfectly, as mirror image can be said to reflect the original subject. However, as with all analogies when we talk about God, this one breaks down when we consider that God is pure act, eternal, without beginning or end. In Him there’s no past or future, but an ever present in which His nature is to be, transcending space and time. Let me expand a bit.

God sees Himself in a supreme pure act of self-consciousness in which He beholds Himself. We can barely approximate this act of self-awareness in ourselves, when we construct an idea of ourselves as bodily, personal beings in our minds and label this image “I” or “me”. But this image is just that, a kind of “projection” to which we ascribe certain qualities and attributes that may (or may not) approximate our reality because, due to sin or its effects, we can distort the very image we have of ourselves nor can we contemplate this image at all times without distraction and when we do, we do run the risk of becoming selfish, self-centered.

Yet, God’s image of Himself is Perfect, flawless, and coextensive with His very being. He contemplates Himself for all eternity in one single act which is, again, coextensive with His one 
Being without risk of degenerating into selfish self-centeredness.

We can see this notion of Christ being an image of God – without the further attenuation of likeness in those instances found elsewhere in the Bible describing man as being created “in the image and likeness of God – in Colossians 1:5. In a language very similar to that of John, the apostle Paul calls Jesus the image of the invisible God.

To put it bluntly, this image that God has of Himself is Himself and that Image became incarnate in Jesus Christ. That’s why in the Man Jesus – the firstborn of all creatures, also according to Colossian 1:5 – we see God perfectly in human form.

Man’s pining for God answered in Jesus Christ

Phillip fails to understand the import of Jesus’ explicit declaration, since Phillip asks Jesus again:
Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."

What Phillip saw in Jesus’ humanity did not exhaust the mystery of God in Phillip’s eyes because, for Phillip, Jesus’ humanity was ordinary, compact, finite and circumscribed to the carpenter’s son standing before him. “God” – Phillip thought – has to be bigger than this man Jesus who claims to be the very image of God. Was Phillip on to something?

I think that another letter of Paul provides an answer to Phillip and those of us who like him want to see the Father, God in all His glory:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself…(Philippians 2: 5-8, NAB)

Despite being God’s very image (again, Colossians 1:5) Jesus did not cling to the glory proper to his nature and stature as God, but out of humility, he emptied himself into a human nature such that the first experience that Phillip had of God was Jesus in his human nature.
God had made the impossible: without stopping being God he became man. We can compare this to the emptying of the world’s oceans into a golf-ball hole! God fitted into a finite, circumscribed, compact, small human nature!

In effect, the only way in which we are to experience and encounter the Image of God who is God from the beginning is in the very humanity of Jesus Christ himself, who by virtue of being God’s Image, indwells in the Father and the Father in Him.

In Jesus, then, we find He for whom our heart pines for, the Eternal one from whom love gives Himself inexhaustibly in…the Holy Spirit.

That will be the subject of a future post…