Jesus reveals his divine identity with use of ‘I am’

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

In our day and age, proving your identity has become more and more important . . . and more cumbersome.

It may be necessary to show a photo ID to vote, a passport to enter the country, a password to log onto a computer. Just who are you?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus frequently asserts his identity by a phrase beginning with the words, “I am.”

We hear an example of that in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 10:1-10. He tells us twice: “I am the gate for the sheep.” Several verses later, he amends that to say, “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:14).

John’s Gospel stands out for these phrases of identity beginning with the words, “I am.” Jesus will tell us: “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35); “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6); “I am the vine (Jn 15:5).

Even in the recent Passion reading that we heard on Good Friday, Jesus responds to a question with the words: “I am” (Jn 18:5).

These sayings of Jesus offer us valuable insights into Jesus’ character, his purpose, his mission on earth. And even the way that they are framed — by the words “I am” — tells us something very significant about Jesus.

The phrase “I am” harkens back to the incident of the burning bush in Ex 3:14. In response to Moses’ question concerning the identity of this mysterious voice which has spoken to him out of the burning bush, “If they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replies, “I am who am.”

In other words, the phrase “I am” constitutes God’s personal name. In using that phrase to describe himself, Jesus is revealing his divine identity, just as surely as God did from the burning bush.

The frequent occurrence of these “I am” phrases in John’s Gospel reinforces Jesus’ fundamental identity as God.

By learning something about Jesus’ identity, we also learn something about ourselves. After all, if he is the good shepherd, then we are the sheep. If he is the bread of life, then we are the ones who are nourished. If he is the light of the world, then we are the ones who see. If he is the way, then we are the ones walking on the journey.

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