In the first reading, the Israelites, who were suffering the loss of their freedom, identity, their pride and temple whilst in exile, were lamenting that God had abandoned them. This is true of us also when we suffer, often because of our sins, negligence and irresponsibility. When we have to pay a price for our sins, instead of using the time to reflect on our wrongdoings, folly and carelessness, we too blame God and accuse Him of abandoning us. Of course, some of us are not directly responsible for our sufferings, which are the consequence of the mistakes of others, but by virtue of our association with them, we too have to carry their sins as well.
Yet in truth, God does not abandon us. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said to Zion who “was saying, ‘Yahweh has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you.” God’s love and compassion for us is stronger even than that of a mother towards her child. God’s love exceeds any human love, even that of a mother’s love for her child. In other words, God will never forget us in our need. The Lord assured Israel, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isa 49:16)
Indeed, He will come to rescue us. This is the promise of God through Isaiah, “Along the roadway they will graze, and any bare height will be their pasture. They will never hunger or thirst, scorching wind and sun will never plague them; for he who pities them will lead them, will guide them to springs of water. I shall turn all my mountains into a road and my highways will be raised aloft. Look! Here they come from far away, look, these from the north and the west, those from the land of Sinim”
How does God do it if not by sending His servant? Jesus is the fulfilment of the Suffering Servant whom God appointed to be the Covenant for His people. “Thus says Yahweh: At the time of my favour I have answered you, on the day of salvation I have helped you. I have formed you and have appointed you to be the covenant for a people, to restore the land, to return ravaged properties, to say to prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’” This is reiterated by St Paul when he said, “As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:1f)
When Jesus began His public ministry, He cited the words of the Suffering Servant to spell out His mission, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18f cf Isa 61:1-4) Jesus, at the end of His life at the Last Supper, proclaimed Himself as the New Covenant. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Lk 22:20) By so doing, He fulfilled the New Covenant as prophesied by Jeremiah. (cf Jer 31:31-34) He is the perfect Covenant because He is the expression of God’s mercy and compassion. In Jesus, we see the compassion of God in person as expressed by the psalmist. “The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures. The Lord is faithful in all his words and loving in all his deeds. The Lord supports all who fall and raises all who are bowed down. The Lord is just in all his ways and loving in all his deeds. He is close to all who call him, who call on him from their hearts.”
Indeed, Jesus is the love and mercy of God in person because He is identified with the Father. This is what the gospel wishes to underscore; that Jesus and the Father are one. In Jesus, we see the Father’s love and mercy. Jesus clearly speaks of His perfect identification with His Father in terms of work, authority and power. When He was accused of breaking the Sabbath Law for healing the paralytic on the Sabbath Day, He said, “My father goes on working, and so do I.” The evangelist noted “that only made the Jews even more intent on killing him, because, not content with breaking the sabbath, he spoke of God as his own Father, and so made himself God’s equal.” Like the Father who sustains creation and continues to give life to us all, Jesus as the life-giver continues the work of the Father, regardless whether it is the Sabbath or not.
Only God can give life of course. The fact that Jesus also gave life to the sick and the dead, means that He is identified with God. By raising the dead to life, Jesus was assuming the power of God. He said, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life; without being brought to judgement he has passed from death to life. I tell you most solemnly, the hour will come – in fact it is here already – when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live. For the Father, who is the source of life, has made the Son the source of life; and, because he is the Son of Man, has appointed him supreme judge.” Christ is appointed both the Lord of life and also the eternal judge of those who would receive fullness of life or eternal damantion.
Another implicit claim of Jesus’ identification with the Father is in the work of judgement. It was believed that the Father would be the judge in our lives. But Jesus said that God had handed to Him the authority to judge as well. His judgement is the judgement of His Father, “for the Father judges no one; he has entrusted all judgement to the Son, so that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father. Whoever refuses honour to the Son refuses honour to the Father who sent him.” He further elaborated, “Do not be surprised at this, for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graces at the sound of his voice: those who did good will rise again to life; and those who did evil, to condemnation.”
Jesus acts on behalf of the Father and in unity with the Father. He is one with Him in will and in action. “I tell you most solemnly, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing: and whatever the Father does the Son does too. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does himself, and he will show him even greater things than these, works that will astonish you.” In all that Jesus did, He claimed that He was in perfect union with the Father. He further explained, “I can do nothing by myself: I can only judge as I am told to judge, and my judging is just, because my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” This is what we mean when we speak of the obedience and fidelity of Jesus to the Father. The sonship of Jesus is expressed in His total commitment to the Father’s will and mission. Obedience is always the consequence of an authentic sonship. Jesus completely surrendered His life to His Father. He made it clear to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (Jn 4:34)
Consequently, the decision is in our court. Will we accept Jesus as the Son of God, the expression of the Father? Unless, we choose Him, and that means accepting His teaching about Himself and that of the Father, we will not have the fullness of life. This is what the Lord said, “Thus, as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses; for the Father judges no one; he has entrusted all judgement to the Son, so that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father. Whoever refuses honour to the Son refuses honour to the Father who sent him.” This is the decision we have to make. The Jews who believed in strict monotheism, that is, the one God, could not admit Jesus to be the Son of God and therefore rejected Him in spite of the signs that Jesus gave. If we want to experience God’s mercy and love, then we need to declare that Jesus is identical with God.
This is the amazing claim for us Christians. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This is highlighted by St Paul when he wrote, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:31-34) Paradoxically, in giving up His own Son, God was restating the statement earlier in Isaiah that even if the mother were to forget her child, “I shall not forget you.” Truly, His love is so great that He would even give up His only Son to save us!