The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods?'” If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’ If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried again to arrest him; but he escaped from their power.
He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him.
Today’s passage brings a challenge to humankind through the Jesus’ words. The Jews are ready to stone Jesus, though it was not for the goods works he performed. They are picking up stones to hurl at him for the charge of blasphemy: They believed Jesus claimed explicitly to be God. According to the text, Jesus, rather skillfully, maneuvers out of making such a specific claim about himself.
In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a single passage in the gospels when the writers refer to Jesus as God. Even in today’s gospel, Jesus is not portrayed as someone who overtly referred to himself as God. If I were writing this gospel, I would have Jesus respond, “Yes, I am God. Everyone fall down and worship me.” Good thing I was not called on to write because I would have skipped ahead of the process God’s Spirit used to help us understand Jesus’ identity.
Given the tense times in which the evangelist was writing, explicated referring to Jesus as God was not possible. Jesus’ earliest follows found themselves in tension with their fellow Jews, especially in the synagogue, as they were in the process of working out their understanding of Jesus’ identity.
Why is this so? Our Catholic Christian doctrines about Jesus developed as human beings reflected on their encounters with Jesus. Our beliefs were forged—through the guidance of the Holy Spirit—as people realized that Jesus was God and began sharing this belief with one another. The process went like this: humans encountered Jesus, reflected on these encounters, and the New Testament writers documented what they heard in these conversations. At each stage, the Holy Spirit was active. By the second half of the 1st century, the use of “God” for Jesus found its way into the writings of St. Paul in Romans.
The challenge brought by today’s passage is this: Like the earliest Christians, we might struggle to find the proper words to make sense of what God is doing in our lives. Through God’s goodness, God invites us to trust that the Holy Spirit is active in our world, piecing us together when our lives fall apart, guiding us when we lose our way and leading us into life.