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Up and Down

But Jesus continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.” John 8:23-24.

A very literal translation of the Greek text of John 8:23-24 reads like this: “And he said to them, “You of the down [kato] are, I of the up [ano] am; you of this world are, I am not of this world. I said therefore to you that you will die in yours sins, for if you believe not that I AM you will die in your sins.”

In his wonderful little book Water into Wine [1985], Bishop Stephen Verney explains how the whole of John’s Gospel is scattered with references to kato and ano and how they are a key to the message of that gospel. They signify two levels or (better) two orders: earth and heaven, flesh and spirit. The two orders are at war with each other. In the order of kato the ruling principle is Me and the order is marked by competition, manipulation and control; in the order of ano the ruling principle is Love and the order is marked by grace, mercy, and compassion. As John sees it, the urgent need of humanity is for these two orders to be reconciled and for earth and heaven, flesh and spirit, to be brought into harmony with each other in each one of us. And, says John, that need is met in Jesus and in Jesus alone. In him the two orders are already reconciled, for he is the I AM.

This was the name by which God made himself known to Moses (Exodus 3:14) and it is the name Jesus uses of himself over and over in John’s Gospel (though in many places, as in the present text, the translation obscures it). Heaven and earth are reconciled, flesh and spirit are harmonised in the God-man and the man-God, Jesus — the I AM; and as Jesus says to those who are rejecting him, to refuse to recognise that he is this meeting point of heaven and earth, flesh and spirit, is to take the road to death. By contrast, the road to life for anyone who will take it is (as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3) to be born from ano (usually translated as “born again”) — to become part of the new order where Love rules instead of Me, and to do so by surrendering to, trusting in Jesus — the I AM who offers me that new birth.

Lord Jesus, by your I AM presence in my life, help me this day to move in the up and down world of your love, and to become more truly the me you created me to be. Amen.

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