‘Before Abraham ever was, I Am.’ At this they picked up stones to throw at him.
You might have thought that anyone hearing such a statement, even if you didn’t like the person, even if you thought they were either mad or a genius, would have said ‘explain what you just said before I stone you to death.’ However, in this and in the other great “I Am” sayings, Jesus is revealing another dimension of reality so disturbingly different from our familiar way of seeing, that his very words threaten the existing order.
Under totalitarian regimes poets and artists are the greatest threat. Those resisting the power-holders, by political or violent means are more easily repressed. Great thinkers, however, change firstly, not structures. Their vision, insights born of direct experience, open new dimensions of reality for others. One of the greatest of modern mathematicians, for example, was Emmy Noether. On a par with Einstein, she opened new ways of perception in algebra and physics that forever transformed the way things in these fields are seen. Her original ideas entered so deeply into the basis conceptual framework that she is rarely even quoted. She didn’t just add words to the vocabulary but expanded the language itself.
Jesus does this to the whole human view of the world. This is why it is so depressing when his revolutionary sayings, born of his direct experience of the Father, are diverted from their true intent and used to defend particular moral opinions or religious structures. Not only are contemplatives the true revolutionaries. True revolutionaries, in any field, are contemplative by nature and mystical in their vision of reality.
Rightly, he was considered dangerous to the prevailing order but at an even deeper level than his critics imagined. It took his death to free him from the repressive power of his critics and to liberate his vision (his spirit) which continues to enter into human consciousness to change the nature of reality for us. It would have been nice if he had been recognised and listened to by the authorities. But that is bound not to happen when to accept such a new way of seeing threatens not only your institution but all that you have built your life upon. Nobody wants to undergo total transformation. We like change that we can control. So, his violent rejection by his contemporaries was bound to happen and, if we feel there was a plan, it was even part of the plan. Even those who loved him misunderstood him.
Our daily spiritual practice and the coming days of the Easter mysteries attune us to seeing this and to understand what Jesus meant when he used the ‘I’ word. Jesus was not saying – as those who wanted to stone or crucify him confusedly feared – ‘I am God’. He was saying ‘God is I am. This is what I am saying’.