John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 12 The equality of the Son and Father; the church as fountain of youth

In sermon his twelfth and final sermon On the Incomprehensible Nature of God John Chrysostom ends by once again focusing on one text of Scripture. In his final confrontation with the Anomoeans the preacher expounds the text of John 5 and the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda.

After noting how the power of Jesus is greater than that of angels (8-10),[1] marveling at the resolve of the paralytic (12-14), and explaining the rationale for Christ’s questionings of the man (15-23), Chrysostom gives three reasons for Christ’s command to take up the bed (24-31). Chrysostom uses this command as the catalyst of the narrative. By healing on the Sabbath and by commanding another man to break the Sabbath, Christ was demonstrating his glory. Jesus knew that doing such things would raise the ire of the religious leaders. But in doing so we only see Psalm 76:20 confirmed: Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.

This miracle demonstrates at least two core truths about Jesus. First, he is sinless.

If he transgressed the law, he sinned. But if he sinned, he would not have so much power. Where there is sin, there can be no manifestation of power. But he did show his power. Therefore, he did not transgress the law and did not sin. (32)

Secondly, he is God. Chrysostom zeroes in on Christ’s statement, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (43-52). Such a statement demands one of two options: Christ is God, or Christ is increasing his guilt. Jesus gave this response when the Jews questioned his healing on the Sabbath. The import of the saying is: I am doing this because this is what God does. To bring Chrysostom’s illustrations into our day: what if someone snatched out of the Oval Office said, “But this is where the President works.” Or what if a man went around letting people out jail saying, “This is the authority the President has.” If such a man were not, in fact, the President, he would be in for quite a rude awakening.

This is precisely what the statement of Jesus means. And the Jews realized it: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”[2] One wonders how many Christians would realize the true meaning of this statement if John had not given us the Jew’s reaction to it. Throughout this series of sermons Chrysostom has shown this strength: bringing out the true force of Scriptural sayings.

The preacher closes out the sermon in the typical fashion with a pastoral exhortation to the congregation (53-59). Once again he exhorts them to faithful attendance at the services of the church:

Spiritual beauty cannot be developed perfectly anywhere else except in this marvelous and divine stronghold of the church. Here the apostles and prophets wipe clean and beautify the face, they strip away the marks of senility left by sin, they apply the bloom of youth, they get rid of every wrinkle, stain, and blemish from our souls. Therefore, let us all, men and women, be eager to implant this beauty in ourselves.(57)

[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984). It is noted that Chrysostom’s text of Scripture included John 5:4: a verse excluded to the margin by some modern translations.

[2] John 5:18

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