Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The ordination and ministry of a deacon

The Presentation ... Simeon is a model for the ministry of a deacon
Patrick Comerford

‘The Ordination of Deacons,’ The Book of Common Prayer (pp 553-562).

Next Sunday’s Lectionary readings: Genesis 2: 4b-9, 15-25; Psalm 65; Revelation 4; Luke 8: 22-25.

Collect (for those to be ordained):

Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts,
by your Holy Spirit you have appointed
various orders of ministry in the Church:
Look with mercy on your servants now called to be
deacons and priests;
maintain them in truth and renew them in holiness,
that by word and good example they may faithfully serve you
to the glory of your name
and the benefit of your Church;
through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Last Friday morning, in the immediate aftermath of the curacy rounds, more than one of you was awakened by the words of this collect as we prayed it in the chapel at the end of the Litany, and realised: “These words are about me!”

This afternoon, I want to spend some time with you discussing what it is to be a deacon – not what it is to be a good student, to pass your exams, to get a good B.Th. degree, to be sure that you’ve found the right parish for your first curacy … And so on.

I simply want us to talk about what it is to be and to do – to be ordained as a deacon, and to do the work of a deacon.

Because we are celebrating Candlemas today – the Feast of the Presentation – at our Community Eucharist, I thought it might be appropriate first of all to look at TS Eliot’s poem, ‘A Song for Simeon.’

For in many ways, Simeon is a model for the ministry of a deacon. He is righteous and devout, and having listened to God’s call and trusted in God’s promises, he waits for years – he must at some stage have thought too many years – in the Temple (Luke 2: 22-35).

You have been waiting for some years now, responding to God’s call and waiting for the fulfilment of his promises. And as deacons, you will be charged with presenting Christ to the world – in your preaching and proclamation, in assisting in the sacramental ministry of the Church at Baptisms and at the Eucharist, and in your pastoral and parochial ministry.

A Song for Simeon

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There never went any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Archbishop John Neill (centre) and Dean Dermot Dunne (left) with three deacons before their ordination in Christ Church Cathedral: the Revd Stephen Farrell, the Revd Anne Marie O’Farrell and the Revd Robert Lawson

To the point of being boring, I’ve told you many times before of my two favourite T-shirt slogans: “To be is to do – Plato; to do is to be – Socrates; Do be Do be Do – Frank Sinatra.” And: “Three good reasons for being a teacher – June, July and August.”

Well, I’m afraid that the second one is going to be meaningless to most of you this summer as you face ordination as deacons in May or June, and then are expected to hit the ground running as curates during the months of June, July and August.

But which is going to be must overwhelming for you: The tasks you are facing this summer? Or the day of ordination as deacon itself?

Here we may be preparing you for many of the tasks you face in terms of vocation or profession. But while you have a good general idea of what to expect over the next three years as curates, you probably have little expectation yet about what is going to happen on the day of ordination itself.

Sometimes at ordinations I find that deacons are surprised – even shocked – by the gravity of the challenge on those awesome occasions. And so too are their friends and families when they hear what deacons are being ordained for.

For the next few weeks, you are going to be anxious about exam preparations, exam questions, exam results, your final project. But then, as you go to each other’s ordination, as you see your own friends being ordained, you realise what all the preparation here has been all about.

The past three years here have not been about not about exam results – although they help. It’s been about responding to that call, allowing the Church to discern that call, and then it’s about service, ministry and mission.

In the Psalm appointed for next Sunday’s readings (Psalm 65), the Psalmist sings:

You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;
to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem ...

Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there!
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple
(Psalm 65: 1, 4).

The New Testament reading (Revelation 4) describes the call of Saint John the Divine in the cave in Patmos in terms of being brought up to gate of Heaven, which stands open, and to stand in front of the heavenly throne.

Like the Psalmist, you believe you have been chosen and called by God long ago, and answering that call, in itself, should bring you happiness in itself as you are called to serve in the house of the Lord, no matter which parish you go to as a curate, no matter which parishes you go to later as an incumbent.

Perhaps, as you kneel before your ordaining bishop on the day of your ordination, you may, like John as he responded to his call on Patmos, have a blissful or even a spiritual or mystical feeling of standing before the gate of heaven and the Heavenly Throne.

But there will also be that moment for most of you when just have that tingle that that you would prefer to have been left where God had called you and called someone else – one of your family members of friends present, perhaps – for ordination and for his service.

You may be frightened, just like the disciples who follow Jesus into the boat in next Sunday morning’s Gospel reading (Luke 8: 22-25) – frightened even before the storms start to brew up.

But God calls a wonderful and diverse group of people to serve his Church and his world in the ordained ministry.

But no matter how tough or difficult or challenging you think your time here as students may have been, you will soon find your confidence in God, a confidence you may think in the weeks ahead that is lacking these weeks, as you look once again to Christ, the real captain of the boat, who is in charge of all storms that may batter and frighten you.

As you kneel before the bishop, as a candidate for ordination as deacon, you are told that in the Church of God deacons serve in the name of Christ, and that you are a reminder to the whole Church that serving others is at the heart of all ministry (‘The Ordination of Deacons,’ The Book of Common Prayer, p. 555).

You will be told that deacons have a special responsibility to see that those in need are cared for with compassion and humility (p. 555).

You and the whole congregation present are told that deacons are to strengthen the faithful, to seek out the careless and the indifferent, to minister to the sick, the needy and those in trouble, to help the oppressed, to promote unity, peace and love (p. 555).

You will be called upon to baptise, preach and teach, to read the Gospel, to lead the people in prayer, and to assist in the administration of the Holy Communion (p. 555).

Remember too to keep prayer is at the heart of your ordained ministry.

At your ordination, you will be reminded in the words of the ordinal that as deacons you are called to “strengthen the faithful” and to “lead the people in intercession” (p. 555). Later, when it comes to your ordination as priest, you will be told that you “are to lead God’s people in prayer and worship, to intercede for them …” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 565).

Bishops too are to “pray for all those committed to their charge … and to lead the offering of prayer and praise” (The Book of Common Prayer, pp 576, 577).

All of us in ordained ministry – deacons, priests and bishops – are asked at ordination by the bishop: “Will you be diligent in prayer …?” The response is: “With the help of God, I will” (The Book of Common Prayer, pp 556, 566, 578).

Archbishop Rowan Williams ... writes of “three-ness” of prayer for those who have been ordained

Archbishop Rowan Williams writes of “three-ness” of prayer for those who have been ordained, and what he says about priests is true for deacons too: “If you have the charge of priesthood laid upon you, then the Sunday liturgy, the Daily Office and private prayer are simply there, and there is no way around them, even if you should want one. They are part of the bargain, and they grow on us as we increasingly sense in them something of the sovereignty of God. In this way, they become both a commitment and a joy, even if there are times when we would rather be doing something else. The ‘three-ness is not a matter of law or rules, but a part of the essence of being Christian.” (Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections).

You will be told that you are to accept the discipline of the Church, to fashion your own lives and the lives of your families according to Christ’s way, to be diligent in prayer, in the reading of Scripture reading, and – just in case you thought this year’s exams are about to put an end to your student days – to be diligent in all studies that “that will deepen your faith and fit you to uphold the truth of the Gospel (p. 556).

Your studies began here, but they do not end here. They should never end.

Your friends and families, when they (hopefully) come to your ordination as deacons, will shake your hands, hug you, congratulate you, and be eager to stand in for photographs with you. They will think have finished it all, they will congratulate you for having finished it all, as if you had achieved or reached your goal.

But that day of ordination to the diaconate is only going to be the beginning of it all. Whatever Plato, Socrates or Frank Sinatra may say, or sing, about being and doing, a deacon is more about doing than about being. And you will realise it as you kneel before the bishop and the bishop – on behalf of the whole Church – places hands on your head and prays for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit so that you will be equipped for the office and work of deacon, that you will be filled with grace and power, that you will be faithful in serving, teaching and proclaiming (p. 557).

But the bishop also prays that you will do all of this “with full assurance of faith, abounding in hope and rooted and grounded in love” (p. 559).

There are times when you will need that reassurance that the Church has prayed that you will have “full assurance of faith, abounding in hope and rooted and grounded in love.” For like the disciples in the boat, there will be times you will find yourself being tossed around on the rough waters, and you will expect Christ to challenge you: ‘Where is your faith?’ (Luke 8: 25).

I firmly believe that those prayers of the Church, prayed on the day we are ordained as deacons, are fully answered, not just at the moment of ordination, but as we struggle on to faithfully serve God, to serve the Church, to serve the world as servants in ministry, to follow Christ in the boat. Christ’s call brought you here, but he will continue to urge you on, to command you, to amaze you, and to demand your obedience.

You will never be prepared adequately or fully for to obey his commands.

But yet, you will constantly come to give thanks for God’s call and the blessings that come with responding to it, as the Psalmist prays in next Sunday’s Psalm:

You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty.
May … the hills be clothed with joy.
May the meadows cover themselves with flocks
(Psalm 65: 12-14).

Be filled with fear like the disciples in the boat, but filled with the fear of God.

Be filled with mystery, like Saint John before the open gate of heaven and the Heavenly Throne.

And, like the Psalmist, be ready to shout for joy and to sing (verse 14).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This essay is based on notes prepared for a workshop with Year III BTh students on the Pastoral Studies course, ‘Spirituality for Today,’ on 3 February 2010.

Saint John’s Gospel (10): John 5: 19-47

There is total harmony within the Trinity

Patrick Comerford

John 5: 19-47

19 ἀπεκρίνατο οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ δύναται ὁ υἱὸς ποιεῖν ἀφ' ἑαυτοῦ οὐδὲν, ἐὰν μή τι βλέπῃ τὸν πατέρα ποιοῦντα· ἃ γὰρ ἂν ἐκεῖνος ποιῇ, ταῦτα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς ὁμοίως ποιεῖ. 20 ὁ γὰρ πατὴρ φιλεῖ τὸν υἱὸν καὶ πάντα δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ ἃ αὐτὸς ποιεῖ, καὶ μείζονα τούτων δείξει αὐτῷ ἔργα, ἵνα ὑμεῖς θαυμάζητε. 21 ὥσπερ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἐγείρει τοὺς νεκροὺς καὶ ζῳοποιεῖ, οὕτω καὶ ὁ υἱὸς οὓς θέλει ζῳοποιεῖ. 22 οὐδὲ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ κρίνει οὐδένα, ἀλλὰ τὴν κρίσιν πᾶσαν δέδωκε τῷ υἱῷ, 23 ἵνα πάντες τιμῶσι τὸν υἱὸν καθὼς τιμῶσι τὸν πατέρα. ὁ μὴ τιμῶν τὸν υἱὸν οὐ τιμᾷ τὸν πατέρα τὸν πέμψαντα αὐτόν. 24 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ὁ τὸν λόγον μου ἀκούων καὶ πιστεύων τῷ πέμψαντί με ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον, καὶ εἰς κρίσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται, ἀλλὰ μεταβέβηκεν ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου εἰς τὴν ζωήν.

25 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἔρχεται ὥρα, καὶ νῦν ἐστιν, ὅτε οἱ νεκροὶ ἀκούσονται τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ οἱ ἀκούσαντες ζήσονται· 26 ὥσπερ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἔχει ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτῷ, οὕτως ἔδωκε καὶ τῷ υἱῷ ζωὴν ἔχειν ἐν ἑαυτῷ· 27 καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ καὶ κρίσιν ποιεῖν, ὅτι υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστί. 28 μὴ θαυμάζετε τοῦτο· ὅτι ἔρχεται ὥρα ἐν ᾗ πάντες οἱ ἐν τοῖς μνημείοις ἀκούσονται τῆς φωνῆς αὐτοῦ, 29 καὶ ἐκπορεύσονται οἱ τὰ ἀγαθὰ ποιήσαντες εἰς ἀνάστασιν ζωῆς, οἱ δὲ τὰ φαῦλα πράξαντες εἰς ἀνάστασιν κρίσεως.

30 οὐ δύναμαι ἐγὼ ποιεῖν ἀπ’ ἐμαυτοῦ οὐδέν. καθὼς ἀκούω κρίνω, καὶ ἡ κρίσις ἡ ἐμὴ δικαία ἐστίν· ὅτι οὐ ζητῶ τὸ θέλημα τὸ ἐμὸν, ἀλλὰ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πέμψαντός με πατρός.

31 Ἐὰν ἐγὼ μαρτυρῶ περὶ ἐμαυτοῦ, ἡ μαρτυρία μου οὐκ ἔστιν ἀληθής. 32 ἄλλος ἐστὶν ὁ μαρτυρῶν περὶ ἐμοῦ, καὶ οἶδα ὅτι ἀληθής ἐστιν ἡ μαρτυρία ἣν μαρτυρεῖ περὶ ἐμοῦ. 33 ὑμεῖς ἀπεστάλκατε πρὸς Ἰωάννην, καὶ μεμαρτύρηκε τῇ ἀληθείᾳ· 34 ἐγὼ δὲ οὐ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου τὴν μαρτυρίαν λαμβάνω, ἀλλὰ ταῦτα λέγω ἵνα ὑμεῖς σωθῆτε. 35 ἐκεῖνος ἦν ὁ λύχνος ὁ καιόμενος καὶ φαίνων, ὑμεῖς δὲ ἠθελήσατε ἀγαλλιαθῆναι πρὸς ὥραν ἐν τῷ φωτὶ αὐτοῦ. 36 ἐγὼ δὲ ἔχω τὴν μαρτυρίαν μείζω τοῦ Ἰωάννου· τὰ γὰρ ἔργα ἃ ἔδωκέ μοι ὁ πατὴρ ἵνα τελειώσω αὐτά, αὐτὰ τὰ ἔργα ἃ ἐγὼ ποιῶ, μαρτυρεῖ περὶ ἐμοῦ ὅτι ὁ πατήρ με ἀπέσταλκε. 37 καὶ ὁ πέμψας με πατὴρ, αὐτὸς μεμαρτύρηκε περὶ ἐμοῦ. οὔτε φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκηκόατε πώποτε οὔτε εἶδος αὐτοῦ ἑωράκατε, 38 καὶ τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔχετε μένοντα ἐν ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὃν ἀπέστειλεν ἐκεῖνος, τούτῳ ὑμεῖς οὐ πιστεύετε.

39 ἐρευνᾶτε τὰς γραφάς, ὅτι ὑμεῖς δοκεῖτε ἐν αὐταῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἔχειν· καὶ ἐκεῖναί εἰσιν αἱ μαρτυροῦσαι περὶ ἐμοῦ· 40 καὶ οὐ θέλετε ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχητε. 41 δόξαν παρὰ ἀνθρώπων οὐ λαμβάνω· 42 ἀλλ' ἔγνωκα ὑμᾶς ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἔχετε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς. 43 ἐγὼ ἐλήλυθα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρός μου, καὶ οὐ λαμβάνετέ με· ἐὰν ἄλλος ἔλθῃ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τῷ ἰδίῳ, ἐκεῖνον λήψεσθε. 44 πῶς δύνασθε ὑμεῖς πιστεῦσαι, δόξαν παρὰ ἀλλήλων λαμβάνοντες, καὶ τὴν δόξαν τὴν παρὰ τοῦ μόνου Θεοῦ οὐ ζητεῖτε; 45 μὴ δοκεῖτε ὅτι ἐγὼ κατηγορήσω ὑμῶν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα· ἔστιν ὁ κατηγορῶν ὑμῶν Μωϋσῆς, εἰς ὃν ὑμεῖς ἠλπίκατε. 46 εἰ γὰρ ἐπιστεύετε Μωϋσεῖ, ἐπιστεύετε ἂν ἐμοί· περὶ γὰρ ἐμοῦ ἐκεῖνος ἔγραψεν. 47 εἰ δὲ τοῖς ἐκείνου γράμμασιν οὐ πιστεύετε, πῶς τοῖς ἐμοῖς ῥήμασι πιστεύσετε;

John 5: 19-47

19 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. 21 Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes. 22 The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. 24 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

25 ‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27 and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

30 ‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

31 ‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. 33 You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

39 ‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 I do not accept glory from human beings. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’


Last week, we looked at the Third Sign in Saint John’s Gospel. In that passage (John 5:1-18), Jesus came to Jerusalem, visits a pool know as Bethesda, where many sick people come to be healed. There heals a man who cannot walk, and in doing so violates two laws: working on the Sabbath; and blasphemy by equating himself to God, both punishable by death.

The third discourse in this Gospel (John 5:19-47) comes in response to that controversy and is essentially Christ’s response to his accusers. Jesus replies to his accusers that he is appropriating nothing to himself, for he only does what he sees his Father doing. Did you notice how he presents his case almost entirely in the third person. I can imagine those who were listening wondering and asking: “Who is this Son of God? Is he talking about himself?” In the dramatic style of Johannine presentation, Jesus keeps them in suspense until verse 30, when he removes all doubt by switching to the first person.

Section 1: Verses 19-31

This passage is crucial in understanding the Fourth Gospel. In this passage, Jesus does not say “Yes, I am equal to God.” Nor does he say, “No, I am not equal to God.” But with accuracy and clarity, he describes the relationship between the Father and the Son, so that in the light of what he reveals, the word “equals” disappears.

Jesus establishes his union with God and states that he can do nothing independently of God. The Son imitates the Father. And Jesus answers the charge of blasphemy by asserting that he is, in fact, the Son of God.

Verses 19

First, Christ argues that, as the Son of God, his actions are only imitating his Father. Where he says “Very truly,” or “Truly, truly” (ἀμὴν ἀμὴν, amēn amēn), the Hebrew amen is repeated for emphasis (see also verse 24). This phrase appears only in Saint John’s Gospel, yet in this Gospel it appears 25 times.

Christ solemnly tells his listeners that, as a good Son, he does not act independently, but acts as he sees the Father acting. This could be said of all the persons of the Trinity. The Son does not act independently of the Father; however, the Father does not act independently of the Son; neither does the Holy Spirit act independently of the Son or the Father. There is total harmony within the Trinity.

Verse 20:

We saw this at Christ’s baptism: ‘And a voice from heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased”’ (Matthew 3: 17). Later, at the Transfiguration, we are told, ‘a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”’ (see John 1: 32-34; Matthew 17: 5; see also II Peter 1: 17).

The Greek word translated “beloved” in these places is always a variation on ἀγάπη, agapē (see my additional note on the Four Loves below). However, the love that the Father has for the Son in John 5: 20 is the Greek φιλία, philia, which normally means to consider someone a friend, to have a special interest in someone or something.”

In John 3: 35, we read: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” The Greek word there is ἀγαπᾷ (agapa), which means “to have a warm regard for and interest in another, cherish, have affection for, love.”

The Father cherishes the Son in a lovinge relationship of the highest order. Therefore, he has given everything to him. Nonetheless, it is the close association that the Father has with the Son that is the foundation of their co-operative work.

Jesus added that greater works would be forthcoming, works that would amaze. Greater things than the signs that he has already performed are coming, such as his death and resurrection, and even the general resurrection and the final judgment. The Greek word translated “astonished” or “marvel” (θαυμάζητε) means “to be extraordinarily impressed or disturbed by something” (see also verse 28).

The Son is powerless; he cannot do anything out of himself and, as we shall see later, cannot say anything out of himself. He simply looks at the Father, and whatever he sees the Father doing he does himself. But, on the other hand, the Father so loves the Son that he gives everything to him and reserves no power to himself. He does not hold back anything, but reveals to the Son everything that he is doing, and gives him authority to do it.

The Father, who is the source of everything on heaven and on earth, loves and reveals. In him, there is no holding onto power. And, as the Son lets go of everything, he receives back from the Father his power, his authority and the light of his glory. The Father lets go, and receives back from the Son.

Verse 21:

Christ explains that the Son imitates God the Father by giving life. God told Moses: “See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me; I kill and I make alive” (Deuteronomy 32: 39). John told us that in Christ “was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1: 4). And Christ says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live ...” (John 11: 25).

When Jesus speaks of the dead, he uses the word in two senses: at a physical level, those who are dead are corpses buried in graves; at a spiritual level, those who are dead appear to be alive outwardly, but are dead inwardly. But Christ has the power to raise the dead to life.

Verses 22:

Similarly, the word judgment has a two-fold meaning: God did not send his son into the κόσμος (kosmos) to judge the κόσμος in the sense of condemning it (John 3: 17), yet judgment inevitably follows from his coming.

The Greek word for judgment, κρίσις (krisis), gives us English words such as crisis, critic, critical, criminal and discriminate. The Son does not condemn anyone, just as the Father does not condemn. But the Father has given him all judgment, in the sense of discrimination, for the coming of the Light in Christ discriminates or distinguishes one thing from another, showing each up for what it really is.

Jesus explains that the Son of God will be the judge at the final judgment. At the final judgment, it will be Christ seated upon the Great White Throne who is the judge (Revelation 20: 11-15). Jesus equates himself directly with God, clearly identifying who he is with the full knowledge that this will infuriate his accusers.

Verse 23:

Honouring the Son is honouring the Father. Jesus explains that God the Father’s purpose in ordering things this way was to bring honour to the Son. The word translated “honour” means “to show high regard for,” while the word translated “even as” means “just as” and is used to indicate “of extent or degree to which, as, to the degree that.” God the Father has decreed that the Son is to be revered in the same way and to the same degree as the Father.

Verses 24-30:

Seeing and believing, hearing and believing, are key themes throughout the Fourth Gospel. Jesus implores his accusers to “hear” his truth and that this is the key to salvation.

Verse 24:

Jesus claims that judgment and life belong to the Son. Everyone who believes the Son does not come into judgment (verse 24).

Next, Christ defends his equality with God by claiming that judgment and life are his to give.

The word πιστεύων, translated “believes” means to consider something true and worthy of one’s trust. Faith is not simply about both belief and trust. And so at Baptism, Conformation and at the renewal of baptismal vows, we ask: Do you believe and trust ...? (see The Book of Common Prayer, pp 374, 380-381, 386-387, 399).

Verses 26-30:

Verses 26 to 30 appear to be a variant form of the speech that went before in verses 19-25, with the emphasis on the future judgment and life given on the last day (parousia eschatology). Compare this with how Daniel prophesies about the Son of Man (see Daniel 7: 13-14).

Both eschatological views became a part of later Christian theology, for the life of grace we receive on earth is the beginning of the life of beatific vision to be possessed in heaven. The Son is the source of life, and will be the agent of divine judgment in the resurrection. The Son is the source of life in the resurrection.

Christ then announces solemnly that the Son of God will call the dead back to life in the resurrection.

Verse 28:

The Greek word θαυμάζητε, translated “astonished” or “marvel,” means “to be extraordinarily impressed or disturbed by something” (see also verse 20).

Verses 31-47:

Jesus points to the evidence in the scriptures and of John the Baptist and Moses as proof of who he is. He says that if we do not believe this evidence we are not only denying him but also denying God.

A note on the “Four Loves”

In his book, The Four Loves, CS Lewis explores the nature of love from a Christian perspective dividing love into four categories, based on the four Greek words for love: affection, friendship, eros, and charity.

Affection (στοργή, storge) is fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance.

Friendship (φιλία, philia) is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity. Lewis explicitly says that his definition of friendship is narrower than mere companionship; friendship in this sense exists only if there is something for the friendship to be “about.”

Eros (ἔρως) is love in the sense of “being in love.” But this love is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, although he does spend time discussing sexual activity and its spiritual significance in a pagan or a Christian sense. He identifies eros as indifferent.

Lewis identifies charity (ἀγάπη, agapē) as the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance. This he recognises as the greatest of loves, and this he sees as a specifically Christian virtue. His chapter on agape in The Four Loves focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love.

Some questions for discussion:

What can we learn from Jesus response to his accusers and how can we apply this in our own spiritual walk?

Christ does not act independently from the other persons in the Trinity; there is total harmony and co-operation within the Trinity. How do we revere and honour the Son in the same manner and to the same degree as the Father?

Christ is the source of eternal life, both now and in the resurrection. How do you relate that to issues such as death and devastation in Haiti today?

Apart from baptisms, weddings and funerals, what are the crisis moments you expect to encounter in pastoral care in parish life?

How would you help people to distinguish between different feelings of love? What are the problems identified with this?

Christ will be the judge at the final judgment. How do you relate that to corporate and social sin?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This essay is based on notes for a Bible study with BTh and MTh students in a tutorial group on 3 February 2010.