In the Gospel Our Lord was confronted by the Jewish authorities. I don’t know what kind of schools they attended, but there was one thing they knew backwards and forwards, and that was the Torah. They could recite the Books of Genesis and Exodus.
They knew the proper name for himself that God told Moses at the burning bush. It was Yahweh. They knew as well that the name Yahweh means He Who Is. So, they knew what Jesus was saying about himself when he said, “Before Abraham came to be I Am.” They knew he was saying he was God. So, with no formal closing to their discussion, they picked up stones, meaning to stone him to death for the sin of blasphemy. But Jesus slipped out of their sight.
What do you think the name Yahweh really means? What did God mean by calling himself “I Am?”
Two answers pop into my mind. For one, the name is like a blank check on which you may write in anything you want. It could be “I Am all powerful.” or, “I Am all wise.”
The other answer to what God means by calling himself I Am would be that he is always present tense. There is no past or future with him. He is as he always was and will be.
Another way of imagining there being no past or future with God is to say all of our human history is always present to him. In Catholic schools we used to be told that the passage of human years is like a parade moving slowly around the base of a mountain. We see only the minute we live in, but God on the top of that mountain sees all the years of our lives as present to him.
A year ago I said the Sunday Masses in the St. Louis parish where I grew up. The parishioners were sad because a drastic drop in enrollment was closing their school in June. I shared their sadness. I graduated from that school in 1942, and my brother and sisters had graduated from there going back to 1928. We have wonderful memories.
I suggested to them that instead of viewing the school’s past as dead and gone, they should see it as God does as a glorious reality. I feel that way myself, and even though the parishioners might not agree, just a few days ago a nephew of mine who was there said on the phone that he bought my idea. He has come to take on God’s point of view, seeing the past as very real, our memories as substantial.
It’s like a poem of my dad where he was lamenting over people doing away with all the improvements he had built into our old house. He concluded with, “Nothing is left but the memories, but maybe it was memories we were building after all.”