In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading we see that the pressure cooker that surrounds Our Lord’s ministry in Jerusalem is about to explode. His miracles are unassailable. They are what they are and frankly cannot be denied except through the most convoluted of mental gymnastics. His teachings conform to the Jewish Scriptures with which His detractors would be well versed. His insight into man’s sinful condition is incisive to the point frankly of laying bare the souls of those who are near to Him. Christ Jesus is standing in a mass of humanity, pushed and pulled by people who are as quick to seek a healing from Him as to denounce Him, and yet He is also standing apart from them all as the one inescapable truth. The scene is loud, boisterous, on the verge of violence, and in comparison to Our Lord the angry mob comes across as almost cartoonish. Surely they know that He is not a Samaritan, and yet they throw out the gratuitous insult anyway, much like an anonymous troll on social media today who calls his presumed political opponent a “fascist” or a “racist” without any real basis in fact. The insult is meant to avoid the person by propping up a stereotype. In the same vein, they accuse Him of being possessed by a devil, and yet surely they know that no man ever possessed by a devil behaved as Christ Jesus is behaving. What is important here is not simply that their insults are gratuitous, even sometimes silly, but that the accusers know better. They protesteth too much, and Christ Jesus calls them on their fundamental dishonesty in a way that challenges them, but also us.
Which of you convinceth me of sin? A more modern translation is: Which of you can prove that I am guilty of sin? This is the one question that Our Lord asks the angry mob, when the pressure cooker is about to blow. He does not try to diffuse the moment by backtracking from His own stance. Nor does He try to divert the mob by pointing out something likely to grab their immediate attention. Nor does He try to confuse them with slippery rhetoric. On the contrary, with His pointed question He cuts to the heart of the matter in a way likely to heat up the moment even more. He is not looking for a fight, let alone to be killed, as evidenced by how He hides when the mob is about to cast stones at Him. Nevertheless, unlike His accusers, Our Lord will not avoid the truth no matter the cost. He is going about His Father’s business, and part of that business is holding up a mirror to man’s fallen soul.
Which of you can prove that I am guilty of sin? There is no answer, for a man may spend his whole life trying to avoid Christ Jesus, but he cannot show in the light of day that Christ Jesus is separated from His Father. Man may accuse God all that he desires, and make a theatrical display in the courtroom in his own dark imagination, but he does not have what it takes to close his case. God will not be judged. The fact that the accusers cannot answer Our Lord’s question then is a tacit admission of His divinity. Their silence is deafening. It is also damning, for if the accusers persist with their disbelief it is because they are not of God. They have rendered themselves into Satan’s pawns on account of their sin. They are the children of hell and given over to their own blind rage. Christ Jesus holds up the mirror to their dark souls, and what the accusers see is much too uncomfortable. They are forced to choose. They can try to avoid the poignant truth of the moment, the reality of their fallen condition and of their pressing need for salvation, or they can set aside their fundamental dishonesty and embrace the God Man right before their eyes. Without any deep soul searching, indeed without even taking a moment to catch their breaths, the accusers all at once choose to avoid the truth, and so the insults start coming like stones launched from a catapult. Samaritan! Devil! False Prophet! They are a rabble gang of haters tossing out insults on Facebook or Twitter while hiding behind their collective anonymity. They are then about to cast stones on Our Lord, and they are today about to cast the very same stones upon His Church. They are the mob, as self-righteous as they are dishonest, as cutting as they are dissembling, and whenever we sin we stand with them against Our Lord and against His Church. Sin is not simply our own personal separation from God. It is choosing the mob. It is salivating with a gang of accusers, while picking up a jagged stone and aiming it at the forehead of Our Lord or at the stained glass window of His Church. Every act of sin is an act of collective violence, for our sins may be private, hidden from view, even swept under the rug, but like a number of rocks tossed into a pond our sins always ripple outward.
We accuse Our Lord. We throw insults at Him, which deep down we know to be nonsense. We go to great lengths to avoid Him, even though we know deep down that we cannot be rescued from our predicament otherwise. Our behavior is so very self-defeating, but Christ Jesus will not give up on us. The more we try to divert our eyes and our ears from the truth, the more He will unveil the truth. Before Abraham was, I am. There is no clearer statement of Our Lord’s divinity. He sheds any poetic subtlety in the matter because at that moment we are too consumed in our sins, too blinded by our rage, to be able to understand anything but the unfiltered truth. This is not the time for nuance. This is not the place for collegial debate. We are about to drown completely beneath our own rage, and so God pulls aside the screen. Before Abraham was, I am. Sin confuses, vandalizes, tears down, but the more sin seems to take over the more God shines in the blackness. The more sin consumes; the more God rescues. The more sin salts the earth; the more God nurtures the vine. God will rise to the occasion for us no matter how much we are about to explode with insane rage. This is a testament to His everlasting fidelity to the oath, which He swore unto Abraham and his seed forevermore. Heaven and Earth will pass away, but God will remain; and wherever He is He will be there for us.
We cannot defeat God. We cannot haul Him into a court and render unto Him our verdict. Even attempting to do so comes across as ridiculous, pathetic, like those insults we levy onto one another on social media. In holding up a mirror to our own fallen condition, Christ Jesus is urging us to see just how cartoonish we are when we are consumed with our own sins. Let go of those sins. See them for the monstrosities that they are and relegate them to the past. He will do the heavy lifting for us on the cross. He will give us the Holy Spirit to aid us when we stumble from the good path. Nevertheless, we must make the choice. It is either the angry mob, or it is Our Lord. Choose God. Let us drop the stone in our hands, and follow Him. Let us do this each and every time we are tempted by sin. If the temptation is too great, for that mob is indeed very powerful, then pray for the Holy Spirit to help us to walk back from the precipice. We can count on God. He was there for us before Abraham, and He will be there for us even unto the end.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.