Readings: Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 105; John 8:51-59
In the first reading God seems like an enthusiastic lover, pleading his suit with the one he wishes to be with him. Let's live together, you and I, here in this place. We will be fruitful and for many generations and can make our home together here. It will be wonderful and we will be happy together. At the end of the reading, almost as an afterthought, he adds 'of course you must keep the covenant as well'.
It recalls Pope Francis' comments in the early days of his papacy that we will grow tired of asking for mercy before God grows tired of showing mercy. God seems more engaged and more involved in the work of establishing this covenant than do the human beings who are to be the partners in the relationship.
Abraham always reminds us of the covenant and of the faith that is required if we are to be loyal to the agreement God has made with His people. Abraham figures in the discussion between Jesus and the Jews in today's gospel reading. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus - there are these high points marking the journey of the covenant across the centuries and through the pages of the Bible. Each moment in which the covenant is endorsed and renewed involves God becoming more involved with the people, coming ever closer to them, being ever more intimately involved in their lives. And each such moment obliges God, so to speak, to reveal more about himself.
When Jesus says 'before Abraham was, I am' he is clearly making the most explicit claim about his mission as Messiah and about his nature as the Son of God. He uses the Divine Name to speak about himself which explains the fierce reaction in his hearers. Because he is 'I am', he is the heart and foundation of the covenant established with Abraham. He is the suitor seeking to be in relationship with his beloved, standing at the foundation of the covenant, 'before' it then, the One.
We believe the covenant established in Jesus is the final and definitive one, the new and eternal covenant. God could not have become more involved in the life and history of His people than He has done in Jesus. And God cannot reveal more about Himself than He has done in opening His heart to us in the paschal mystery of Jesus.
We are called to be participants in this story, interlocutors of God in the unfolding of His relationship with human beings. It is a story whose origins are lost in the mists of time - before Abraham was - but it is a story established in the present eternal moment - I am. Whoever keeps this word, the covenant promise, will never taste death for, as the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel said, to say 'I love you' is to say 'you will not die'. And God says to us 'I love you' and I want to establish with you an everlasting pact.