Arianism is an ancient heresy that asserted that although Jesus Christ is the Son of God, he was not co-equal to God. Rather, he was created and is distinct from the Father. In 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea condemned Arianism and declared that Jesus was both God and man. They reasoned, that if he was not a human, he would have been a total stranger to us. And if he was not God, he could not have reconciled us to his Father.
The people confronting Jesus in today’s reading anticipated that heresy. In John’s gospel Jesus says: “The Father and I are one.” This was blasphemy to his enemies and they picked up rocks to stone him. “Because you, being a man, make yourself God," they cried; he was an affront to their Law and tradition and deserved to be killed.
Let us consider Jesus’ response. First, he was not threatened by their violence; he was confident that he is telling the truth and this gave him a certain freedom. Second, as a perfect teacher, he does not base his claim of oneness with God on what he says but rather on what he does. "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?" Jesus is a preacher of the word and a doer. Third, he realizes the futility of arguing with his opponents. Their minds are made up; “his hour” has not yet come; so he escapes from their midst and walks away to let their rage cool down.
Jesus gives us an example of speaking the truth in uncomfortable situations and enduring opposition. He leads by example in doing good works. He acts prudently in escaping the crowd to allow them to cool their rage. These are Jesus’ messages to us, particularly in the uncertain time in which we now live. We may think imitating him is easier said than done. But we gave us his example. Jesus shared our fears and doubts, but he overcame them, confident in his Father’s help that never fails. We can try to do the same, confident that he is with us in our doubts and fears, and that we are one with him in his Body, the church.
Kail Ellis, OSA