Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Good Shepherd and True Sight: The Readings for the Fourth Sundayof Lent

The major theme of this Sunday’s readings is coming to true “sight” and being restored from the darkness of sin. This is explored in different ways. Here we will simply offer some brief thoughts on the way this motif is explored in this Sunday readings.

THE FIRST READING: 1 Samuel 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A
The LORD said to Samuel:
“Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”
As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice,
Samuel looked at Eliab and thought,
“Surely the LORD’s anointed is here before him.”
But the LORD said to Samuel:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.”
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
“There—anoint him, for this is the one!”
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed David in the presence of his brothers;
and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.
A man after God’s own heart. The first reading from 1 Samuel is the biblical introduction to the figure of David, the man identified in Scripture as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Though David certainly sinned, David also repented and, by Jesus’ day, was basically regarded as the model of piety for ancient Israel (cf. Ps. 1; Sir. 47; Ps. 151). To be righteous is to walk in the ways of David (e.g., Sir. 48:22; 1 Kgs. 3:14; 8:25; 11:38; 2 Kgs. 22:2); to be wicked is to be unlike him (cf. Sir 49:4).

The Lord looks into the heart. In this reading David is chosen not because of his appearance—the Lord sees his true greatness, but others are not able to see it. Whereas the worldly look towards outward appearances, true greatness is found in the heart. Thus, whereas Samuel expects to anoint one of Jesse’s older sons, the Lord chooses the young man David.

Of course, God always does this in scripture. He chooses the weak to shame the proud. He chooses the unlikely as his instruments so that when his purpose is accomplished through them, it is clear: it had to be God (because the victory could have been the result of that guy—something more was at work).

By the way, there’s a lesson in humility here. God chooses the weak. If God uses us for his purposes, we can never become proud. God chooses the unlikely. If you think you’re something special because you were able to be an instrument of grace in someone’s life, don’t get full of yourself—God chooses the weak!

David as the “Messiah”. David’s anointing is linked to the coming of the Spirit. Indeed, in Catholic tradition the anointing of oil is used as a symbol of the Spirit (e.g., the sacrament of confirmation). Specifically, it is because the Spirit is upon David—not just oil, which represents the spirit—that he is “anointed”. The Hebrew word for “anointed one”, mashiyach, is where we get the term, “Messiah”. The Greek translation of this term, christos, is where, of course, we get the term, “Christ”.

In fact, David is specifically identified as “the anointed of God” (2 Sam 23:1). It is no surprise, then, that the New Testament describes David as a kind of type of Jesus. For example, psalms about David are specifically applied to Jesus (cf., e.g., Acts 2:25–36).

David as the Image of the Divine King. Finally, we might point out here that the king of Israel is chosen from the fields; he is a shepherd. The imagery is apt; the king will be a shepherd of Israel. But, of course, using such imagery for the king is significant because that very same office is attributed to God. Indeed, the Davidic monarch is described in other terms typically associated for God, most notable among, the word, “king”. In the psalms, the king of Israel is identified as both “the Lord” (Pss 5:2; 10:16; 24:7–10; 29:10; 44:4; 47:2, 6–7; 48:2; 68:24; 74:12; 84:3; 98:6; 99:4; 145:1; 149:2) and the son of David (Ps 2:6; 18:50; 20:9; 21:1, 7; 45:1, 11, 14–15; 48:2; 61:6; 63:11; 72:1; 89:18; 95:3).

In short, the Davidic king serves as an icon of the divine king. The Lord reigns through him. It is this kind of theology that illuminates one of the most stunning passages in the Old Testament. In 1 Chronicles 29:20 we read that after Solomon was enthroned as king the people of Israel “worshipped the Lord and the king”.[1] Solomon here is not an idol, competing for the worship due only to God. Rather, Solomon is a visible sign of the Lord himself. In worshipping him—the one who sits on “the throne of the Lord” (1 Chr 29:23)—the people express their worship for the one true God of Israel.

In this we also see how David serves as a kind of type of Christ. Jesus is identified as the “son of David” but also as divine. God reigns in Jesus Christ in a way that was, for the New Testament authors, foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

God’s lesson to Samuel: Man does not see as God sees. The lesson Samuel is to take away from his anointing of David is this: spiritual sight goes beyond earthly appearances. It is necessary to learn to see not as man sees but as God does.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Psalm 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6
R/ (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar psalms in the Psalter. The psalm is certainly recognized today as one of the most consoling prayers in the book of Psalms. In fact, it is a staple of Catholic funeral masses. But there is much to its imagery that is often missed. Normally when we write these reflections we only allot a brief amount of space to the psalm. This time a bit more on the psalm is in order.

Literary arrangement. The psalm appears to have a two-part structure: (1) Psalm 23:1–4: The Lord as Shepherd; Psalm 23:5–6: The Lord as gracious host. John Goldingay lays out the structure of the psalm this way:
a The Lord is my shepherd (third person; vv. 1–3)

   b You are my shepherd (second person; v. 4)

   b´ You are my host (second person; v. 5)

The Lord is my host (third person; v. 6)[2]
Shepherd imagery. Although this goes against the grain, it is important to point out that being a “shepherd” did not always imply that a person had a gentle disposition (cf. 1 Sam 17:34–36).[3] Indeed, as in Israel, the term was frequently used image for kings in the ancient Near East (e.g., Hammurabi; Cyrus [Isa 44:28]). It was also used in other cultures for deities.[4] The duties of a shepherd included defending the flock against aggressors (Ps 80:1–3 [2–4]; Jer 31:10), feeding and watering sheep (Isa 40:11), and find pastures (Jer 9:10 [9]; 23:10; Joel 1:19–20; etc.). All of these tasks the psalmist attributes to the Lord. Incidentally, the book of Ezekiel identifies as the Lord as a kind of good shepherd who cares for his flock, while the evil ones (the corrupt leaders of Israel) fail in their task (cf. Ezek. 34:1–31).

The Shepherd’s Tools. The psalm mentions both of the shepherd’s tools. These are worth reflection upon. The two tools are primarily the rod and the staff. The rod is a weapon, kept in belt. It was used for striking adversaries of the sheep unto death (Exod. 21:20). Notably, the imagery is also used in connection with the Davidic king in Psalm 2, who defeats his enemies with a rod (cf. Ps 2:9). The staff brings comfort, but in different ways. The staff could be used by the shepherd to lean upon for support (Zech 8:4). It was also used to keep sheep in order and knock down fruit.

New Exodus Imagery. The imagery of God “shepherding” evokes exodus imagery.[5] Specifically, the Lord “leads” (cf. nāhal) in verse 2, language elsewhere linked with the Exodus.
“Thou hast led in thy steadfast love the people whom thou hast redeemed, thou hast guided [nāhal] them by thy strength to thy holy abode” (Exod 15:13).
The fact that the psalm uses such imagery may point to the hope for a new exodus. In fact, the psalm uses terminology that is explicitly linked with such hopes. For example, the psalmist speaks of how God brings “comfort”—a term the prophet Isaiah famously used to describe the hope for a New Exodus (Isa 40:31). Likewise, the psalm’s imagery of the Lord feeding his people, evokes Isaiah 49:
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 49:11).
Moreover, new exodus hopes were typically tied to the temple, which was seen as the place Israel would be gathered at in the messianic age (e.g., Isa. 2:2). In light of the other new exodus themes, it may be significant that the psalm is ultimately ordered to temple climax (cf. v. 6: “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.”)

The thanksgiving meal. The fact that the psalm moves from a celebration of the Lord protecting his people to a meal has also caused some scholars to link the psalm to the tôdâ, the thanksgiving sacrifice which stands as the backdrop to other psalms (cf., e.g., the superscription of Ps 100). Ernest Lucas writes,
“The ‘thanksgiving offering’ was one form of the ‘sacrifice of well-being’ in which only part of the animal was burnt on the altar and the rest cooked and eaten at the sanctuary by the offerer and guest. Such an occasion would be an appropriate one for reciting this psalm, which in its expression of confidence in God is also an implicit expression of thanks.”[6]
In this the psalm may also be evoking new exodus imagery. Of course, the exodus was closely associated with a Passover meal, a celebration ancient Jews closely linked with the thanksgiving sacrifice. The exodus also famously climaxed with a meal with God at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod 24:11). As many scholars have noticed, that scene seems to be in the background of messianic banquet prophecies such as that found in Isa. 25:6-8. In short, the new exodus was typically linked with the idea of a great banquet—a meal like Passover in which God’s people rejoice in celebration at table.

That the psalm uses similar imagery reinforces the possibility that the “thank offering” is in view. Indeed, the thanksgiving sacrifice—which like the Passover, climaxed in a meal—is closely associated with the new exodus (cf., e.g., Jer. 33:11).

Christological reading. In Christian tradition, the psalm has been read as describing Christ, who is presented as the “good shepherd” in Scripture. Two passages in the New Testament come to mind here, which both explicitly describe Christ as a shepherd.
Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:33–34)[7] 
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, 15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11–15).
Sacramental readings. In Christian tradition, the psalm has also been read sacramentally. St. Thomas Aquinas offers—in addition to a literal reading—such spiritual interpretations in his commentary on Psalm 23. The green pastures the shepherd brings his flock are understood in terms of spiritual food; e.g., eucharist. The restful waters the shepherd leads his people to are connected to baptism, as is the language of “anointing”. The language of the preparation of the “table” is also linked to the Eucharistic celebration as is the language of the “cup” that “overflows”. 

The possible use of the thanksgiving meal imagery may also be linked to sacramental theology; the Greek word for "thanksgiving" is "eucharist".

Psalm 23 in the Sunday readings. Psalm 23 refers to the Lord who brings his people out of the “dark valley” (i.e., leading them out of darkness) and gives them restful waters. Both images are easily linked to the Gospel reading, where Christ heals the blind man at the pool of Siloam.

SECOND READING: Ephesians 5:8–14
Brothers and sisters:You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.Therefore, it says:“Awake, O sleeper,and arise from the dead,and Christ will give you light.”
The second reading picks up the themes we’ve already mentioned: believers are led out of darkness. Darkness is associated with sin, particularly, “shameful” things which are done in “secret”.

More notably, Paul says that “you are light in the Lord”. Christ doesn’t simply provide the light, believers are themselves said to become like him. This is linked to the resurrection. Believers are said to be like Christ in the resurrection—they have arisen from the dead and have been given light.

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see. 
His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
“Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is, “
but others said, “No, he just looks like him.”
He said, “I am.”
So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”
He replied,
“The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’
So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
And they said to him, “Where is he?”
He said, “I don’t know.” 
They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
“He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”
So some of the Pharisees said,
“This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the sabbath.”
But others said,
“How can a sinful man do such signs?”
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
“What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.” 
Now the Jews did not believe
that he had been blind and gained his sight
until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them,
“Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How does he now see?”
His parents answered and said,
“We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now,
nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him, he is of age;
he can speak for himself.”
His parents said this because they were afraid
of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed
that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said,
“He is of age; question him.” 
So a second time they called the man who had been blind
and said to him, “Give God the praise!
We know that this man is a sinner.”
He replied,
“If he is a sinner, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”
So they said to him,
“What did he do to you?
How did he open your eyes?”
He answered them,
“I told you already and you did not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
They ridiculed him and said,
“You are that man’s disciple;
we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from.”
The man answered and said to them,
“This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything.”
They answered and said to him,
“You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?”
Then they threw him out. 
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered and said,
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him,
“You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he.”
He said,
“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.
Then Jesus said,
“I came into this world for judgment,
so that those who do not see might see,
and those who do see might become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this
and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them,
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.
The story in John 9 is remarkably rich. So much that could be said about it must be left unsaid. Let me simply highlight a few elements that seem particularly relevant.

Jesus’ unique healing method. Elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is able to heal by simply pronouncing a word (John 4:50–54). Here Jesus uses clay and the act of washing with water. Why?

The answer is not entirely obvious. As many commentators have noted, by using clay Jesus evokes Genesis where God creates humanity with the soil. The imagery could thus be read as highlighting what John 1 emphasizes, namely, Jesus identity as creator.

We might also learn another lesson from this though. Jesus heals different people in different ways. Perhaps we might take away from this the idea that God works uniquely in each person’s life. He chooses a pedagogy specially designed for each person.

The Pool of Siloam and Baptismal Imagery. John explicitly tells us what “Siloam” means, “Sent”. The name, therefore, is significant. Significantly, as numerous commentators have shown, Jesus is described by John as the one who is “sent”.[8] The pool is thus likely to be linked with Jesus.

The Pool of Siloam was discovered in 2004.
You can learn more about that discovery at
Going on, we might note that washing in pool brings “enlightenment” to the blind man. It is no coincidence, then, that commentators see baptismal imagery in the story. The man is “washed” in Christ—an apt symbol of the sacrament. Moreover, other aspects of this story weigh in favor of a baptismal interpretation. The early Christians apparently linked baptism to “enlightenment” (cf. Eph 1:18; Heb 6:4).[9] In fact, blindness is used as a metaphor for sin in the story (John 9:39–41).[10] The term used for Jesus putting the clay on the man’s eyes is also significant: epechrisen, literally, “anoint” (note: epechrisen / christos). In baptism, the believer receives the coming of the spirit (something linked with the scene of Christ’s baptism in John’s Gospel).

The man is also said to have been blind from birth. Indeed, John elsewhere implies that all men are in need of rebirth because they are, from natural birth, in need of rebirth (see the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3:1–8. Indeed, the church fathers read this passage in this way. St. Augustine states: “For the blind man here is the human race. Blindness came upon the first man by reason of sin: and from him we all derive it: i.e. man is blind from his birth.” [11]

Theosis. The man is also identified as a “new man”. The New American Bible translation miserably fails to convey the way this is described in John 9 (as do most other English translations). The people debate who the man is:
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.”
What is key to recognize is the exact language of the man’s response: 
“He said, ‘I am.’” (John 9:9).
As John Bergsma explains, the man’s terse response to the debate about his identity could mean that he is in a sense both “the man who used to sin and beg” and “he is like him”, i.e., he is a different man.

Moreover, the language the man uses for himself is striking: ego eimi, “I AM”—the name of God revealed to Moses in the Greek version of the Old Testament. This is the only instance of someone using this language in the Gospel of John other than Jesus, whose use of the terminology elsewhere is clearly meant to evoke the divine name (cf. John 18:6). In the next chapter in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus explains that in the Old Testament the Lord called those who had received the word of God “gods” (John 10:34–36). Here the man who has been washed in “Sent”—i.e., the man washed in Siloam, an image of Christ—is associated with the divine name. This ties in beautifully with the second reading where Paul explains that believers are “light”. Christ is “light”. In baptism, Christians for Paul are risen with him (Rom. 6:1–4) and thereby raised to new life. John would seem to imply a similar idea.

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents . . .” Jesus makes it clear that sickness is not always a result of sin. Though, it should be pointed out, Jesus elsewhere seems to suggest that sickness can sometimes be linked to sin. In John 5:14, Jesus tells a man he cures from being unable to walk, “Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” But that is not the case here.

Of course, we know that sickness and infirmity is not always a result of sin from other books of the bible, e.g., Job, the righteous man who suffers. This, of course, raises the difficult question: why does God allow sickness and suffering? Jesus explains it is to manifest the work of God. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Thomas Aquinas offers the following commentary:
“To understand why one person is punished on account of the sins of another, we must realize that a punishment has two aspects: it is an injury and a remedy. Sometimes a part of the body is cut off to save the entire body. And a punishment of this kind causes an injury insofar as a part is cut off, but it is a remedy insofar as it saves the body itself. Still, a doctor never cuts off a superior member to save one which is inferior, but the other way around. Now in human matters, the soul is superior to the body, and the body is superior to external possessions. And so it never happens that someone is punished in his soul for the sake of his body, but rather he is punished in his body as a curing remedy for his soul. Therefore, God sometimes imposes physical punishments, or difficulties in external concerns, as a beneficial remedy for the soul. And then punishments of this kind are not given just as injuries, but as healing remedies. Thus, the killing of the children of Sodom was for the good of their souls: not because they deserved it, but so they would not be punished more severely for increasing their sins in a life spent in imitating their parents. And in this way some are often punished for the sins of their parents.” —St. Thomas Aquinas, Ion. 9:1297.
Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus’ self-identification ties together the themes of this Sunday’s lectionary selections. Sin is darkness. During Lent, we meditate on Christ, the divine creator, who brings us out of darkness. He is the true son of David, the anointed one, the Good Shepherd, who brings us the light of God. We receive this light in baptism—we are united to Christ, recreated in him and divinized in him. This Lent, let us turn from the darkness and walk in the light.
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[1] English translations sometimes obscure the clear meaning intended by the Hebrew. See, e.g., the RSV, which reads “[the people] worshipped the Lord, and did obeisance to the king”.

[2] John Goldingay, Psalms (3 vols.; Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006–8), 1:347.

[3] See also Midrash on Psalms 1:327.

[4] See ANET 69, 71, 72, 337, 387–88.

[5] See also Exod. 13:17, 21; 15:13; 32:34; Deut. 32:12; Neh. 9:12; Ps. 77:20 [21]; Ps. 78:14, 15.

[6] Ernest C. Lucas, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms and Wisdom Literature (vol. 3 of the Old Testament; Downers Grove, 2003), 39.

[7] See Joel Marcus, Mark (AYB; 2 vols.; New Haven: Yale University, 2002/2009), 1:406.

[8] John 3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23–24, 30, 36–38; 6:29, 38, 39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, etc.

[9] “The Word recognizes three Births for us; namely, the natural birth, that of Baptism, and that of the Resurrection. . . . Let us discourse upon the second, which is no necessary for us, and which gives its name to the Feast of Lights. . . . And as Christ the Giver of it is called by many various names, so too is this Gift. . . . We call it, the Gift, the Grace, Baptism, Unction, Illumination, the Clothing of Immortality, the Laver of Regeneration, the Seal, and everything that is honourable. . . . Illumination, because of its slendour.” Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 40: Oration on Holy Baptism 2–4, preached at Constantinople on January 6, 381 (NPNF2 7:360).

[10] “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ 41 Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39–41).

[11] Tract. in Io., 44, ch. 1, col. 1713; cited from Catena Aurea on John 9:1–7.


John Palatucci said...

What I find interesting Dr. Barber are the “I am” words of the blind man. I like to refer to John’ s Gospel as an incarnational and sacramental icon because of the way the Evangelist masterfully uses symbolism and double meanings throughout his book especially in the Book of Signs. The simple things of nature like water, etc., are divinized, made sacraments by the touch of the Incarnated Word. Also in John's Gospel there are the Seven “I Am” saying of Jesus. John masterfully uses this number for an obvious literary reason: to evoke the perfection of the Incarnated Word, Jesus, over all things visible and invisible. Yet the blind man says the words “I am” too. This is actually an 8th time the phrase us used in the Gospel. Could John be hinting in a roundabout way the new 8th day, the eternal day that Jesus will harbor in for humanity? On that Day when the Light will reveal all things there will be a new creation, a new heaven and new earth where humanity will be incarnated, made perfect by the touch of Incarnated Word, a later theme in John's Book of Revelation.

Blessed Lent!
Fr. John F. X. Palatucci
Church of St. Paul
Congers, NY

Michael Barber said...


Thanks for your comment. That's an interesting suggestion. Of course, the "eighth day" was clearly used with "new creation" imagery in the early church (see Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy).

However, is that intended in this case? It might be. Or it could be a coincidence. If you could point to some other way John links new creation to "8th day" imagery I'd be convinced.

One possible way forward might be noting that John links Christ's work to the Feast of Tabernacles and has Jesus say something significant on the high day of the feast ("the last day... the great day" (7:37), which was the eighth day. A case could be made that such imagery was linked to new creation motifs in Second Temple Judaism (e.g., Zech 14). However, all that is just suggestive not really convincing. The links are too tenuous.

If you have any further thoughts let me know. My reaction would be: the eighth day imagery might be linked to new creation motifs but we can't be sure.

Thanks again for your comment! That's an interesting suggestion.

Louis said...

Very thorough and informative! Thank you Dr. Barber!