Lectio Divina: John 8:31-42
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
You call us to be free people.
Help us to give You always
a response of freedom.
Set free by Christ’s
liberating word and death,
may we never again
shackle ourselves with self-made chains,
of selfish sin and false attachments.
We ask You this through Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - John 8:31-42
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, 'You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free. I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you. I tell you what I have seen in the Father's presence; then do what you have heard from the Father." They answered and said to him, "Our father is Abraham." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father!" So they said to him, "We were not born of fornication. We have one Father, God." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me."
• The reflection on chapter 8 of the Gospel of John continues today. In the form of concentric circles, John deepens the mystery of God which envelopes the person of Jesus. It seems like a repetition, because he always goes back to speak of the same point. In reality, it is the same point, but every time at a more profound level. Today’s Gospel treats the theme of the relationship of Jesus with Abraham, the Father of the People of God. John tries to help the communities understand how Jesus places himself within the whole history of the People of God. He helps them to perceive the difference that existed between Jesus and the Jews, and also the Jews and the others, as all of us are sons and daughters of Abraham.
• John 8:31-32: The liberty which comes from fidelity to the word of Jesus. Jesus affirms to the Jews: “If you make My word your home you will indeed be My disciples; 32 you will come to know the truth and the truth will set you free”. To be a disciple of Jesus is the same as opening oneself to God. The words of Jesus are in reality words of God. They communicate the truth, because they make things known as they are in the eyes of God and not in the eyes of the Pharisees. Later, during the Last Supper, Jesus will teach the same thing to the disciples.
• John 8:33.38: What is it to be a son or a daughter of Abraham? The reaction of the Jews is immediate: “We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone: what do You mean: You will be set free?” Jesus repeats and confirms making a distinction between son and slave and says: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave. The slave has no permanent standing in the household, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free”. Jesus is the son and remains in the house of the Father. The slave does not live in the house of the Father. To live outside the house, outside of God means to live in sin. If they would accept the word of Jesus they could become sons and attain liberty. They would no longer be slaves. And Jesus continues: “I know that you are descended from Abraham; but you want to kill Me, because My word finds no place in you”. The distinction is immediately very clear: “What I speak of is what I have seen at My Father’s side, and you too put into action the lessons you have learnt from your father”. Jesus denies to them the right to say that they are sons of Abraham, because their works affirm the contrary.
• John 8:39-41ª: A son of Abraham fulfills the works of Abraham. They insist in affirming: “Our father is Abraham!” as if they wanted to present to Jesus a document of their identity. Jesus repeats: “If you are sons of Abraham do the works of Abraham! 40 Now, instead you are seeking to kill Me, because I have told you the truth heard from God; Abraham has not done this. 41 You do the works of your father”. Between the lines, He suggests that their father is Satan (Jn 8:44). He suggests that they are sons of prostitution.
• John 8:41b-42: If God was your Father, certainly, you would love Me, because I have My origin in God and I come from Him; I did not come of My own accord, but He sent Me”. Jesus repeats the same truth using diverse words: “Whoever comes from God listens to the words of God”. The origin of this affirmation is from Jeremiah who says: “Within them I shall plant My Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I shall be their God and they will be My people. There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying: ‘Learn to know Yahweh!’ No, they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind” (Jr 31:33-34). But they will not open themselves to this new experience of God, and because of this they will not recognize Jesus as the one sent by the Father.
4) Personal questions
• This passage talks about slavery in a new way to the Jews. Even today, we often think of slavery in a narrow way and not as Jesus is talking about here. In what ways are we slaves to things of the world which the Father has no need of?
• Which is my deepest experience which leads me to recognize Jesus as the one sent by God?
• There is a strong statement for us to be put together from this passage. "If God were your Father, you would love Me” and "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works of Abraham.” It can then be said: “ If God were your Father, you would be doing the works of God”. Do we actively do the work of God every day as his children, or just when we have time or when it is convenient?
5) Concluding Prayer
May You be blessed, Lord, God of our ancestors,
be praised and extolled for ever.
Blessed be Your glorious and holy name,
praised and extolled for ever.
Blessed on the throne of Your kingdom,
exalted above all, glorified for ever. (Dn 3,52.54)