“It is I” are words pertaining to divine presence. At the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was walking toward the hard-pressed disciples in the boat. They were afraid, not so much from the strong wind on the water, but from Jesus whom they thought was a ghost. He responded to them as God had in the past, “Do not be afraid.” (Mark 6: 50 ESV) Jesus speaks to the disciples as God spoke to Israel, “. . . fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 10: 41 ESV) In the story in Mark Jesus also says, “It is I,” (Greek ego eimi) not only to identify Himself to the fearful disciples, but also to announce that He is God. The Lord says the same in the Book of Isaiah, “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last, I am he.” (Isaiah 41: 4b ESV) The “It is I” or “I am he” indicate divine announcement and presence. Christ is the Son of God and God. In a similar story in the Gospel of John, the “I am” is used as in Mark. Throughout his Gospel John uses the divine appellation “I am” or “I am he.” It is undeniably a claim of divinity. To Moses on Sinai God gives His name, “I am who I am.”
In our witness and apology we must firmly adhere to the divine claim of Jesus; otherwise, we effectively nullify the Scriptures and the Christian tradition that witnesses to the Scriptures. Only the Lord God can save; thus, Jesus who saves must be God. The Gospels do not present the divinity of Christ in a theological essay but mostly in narrative as in the encounter on the sea.
In our conversations with others, we can use the biblical narrative to witness and to defend the witness. The assertion of Jesus’ identity cannot be defended by reason, only by revelation and belief in the veracity and reliability of that revelation.
It should be no surprise that some people will challenge the truth of Jesus’ identity. Our witness needs to be patient. God is patient with us humans, so we must be patient with them too. (see Saint Cyprian’s On the Advantage of Patience) It is difficult, but not impossible. We must show respect for others although we may doubt we are capable of such a thing in the face of their repudiation of Christ. Prayer to God for the gift of self-discipline is the only measure that is effective.
Michael G. Tavella
October 22, 2023
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost