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God the Father: The Model That Finds Expression in the Son Jesus


A human father is seen as a model by his child. Through generation he imprints his likeness on the new being, and this likeness is destined to develop through the influence the father exercises during the child's growth to adulthood. The same holds true of a mother. A father and a mother transmit their characteristics to their child. In the development of the family's life and through education, parents play the role of models.

The model that finds expression

When Jesus said "Abba" he acknowledged the Father as the supreme model to whom he conformed his activities as a Son. He explained this principle of his behaviour when, to justify a miracle worked on the Sabbath, he invoked the Father's way of acting: "My Father is still working, so I'm working, too" (Jn 5:17). The reason he works on the Sabbath is that the Father does not cease working on that day. Jesus corrects the presentation of the Creator at rest on the seventh day as it came from the Book of Genesis (2:2). It is one of the points on which he wants to correct and complement the image of God accepted by Jewish tradition.

Then Jesus goes beyond the particular case of the Sabbath and lays down a general rule: "Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son can do nothing on his own except what he sees the Father doing. What he does, likewise the Son does too. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and he'll show him greater works than these, so that you'll be amazed" (Jn 5:19-20). This is to say that in his earthly life Jesus considers himself as being in a continual apprenticeship to his Father in everything he does. Jesus deliberately looks to his Father as the model he must follow in all things. Whereas we might have thought that when Jesus affirmed his divinity he would simply present himself as the supreme model, he takes care to place himself in the wake of the Father whose activity he wants to faithfully reflect. Jesus emphasizes that the Father, in showing him what he is doing, wants to remain for him the model that finds expression in all his Son's actions.

Jesus answers the critics who accuse him of having friendly relations with sinners by using parables that explain the meaning of his behaviour. For instance, there are the parables of the lost sheep and of the lost coin, of the prodigal son in particular in which the Father's mercy and his readiness to forgive shine forth. In Jesus' eyes, the decisive argument rests in the Father's attitude: he is the indisputable model. The outstanding mark of Jesus' behaviour, benevolence toward stems from the Father who thus reveals his deepest mind-set in the actions of his incarnate Son.


The expression of the Father

The Evangelist who has recorded Jesus' words concerning his resolve to imitate the Father in all his actions also enables us to discover the eternal origin of this imitation. In his Prologue, John calls the Son the "Logos," the "Word." He indicates that from all eternity this Son was the expression of the Father, the Word pronounced by the Father. Long before Jesus' resemblance to the Father appeared in his earthly life, it was an eternal attribute of the Son because the Son was the expression of the Father. The Son had come forth from the Father as his reflection within the divine Being.

When the Word became flesh he manifested in his human existence the Father whom his divine person as the Son already expressed in divine language. St. John envisions the Incarnation as a manifestation of divine glory: "We saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). The Word Incarnate came to dwell among us as the light and truth of the Father. He is the likeness of the invisible Father become visible to human eyes.

The hymn of John's Prologue closes with the affirmation that the supreme goal of the impetus toward God, who had remained inaccessible in the Old Testament, was in fact attained by virtue of the coming of the Son. The Word made flesh has made known to us the God no one has ever seen: "No one has ever seen God; the only begotten Son of God-who is in the bosom of the Father he has revealed him" (Jn 1:18). We note that not only does the Son make God known. He makes the Father known, to whom he is united in the closest possible intimacy.

When the Evangelist points out this meaning of revelation, we must remember that he is simply repeating and commenting on Jesus' own declaration preciously preserved among the memories of the Last Supper: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father!" (Jn 14:9). When the disciple asks him to show them the Father, the Master answers that this request has already been granted. It is a remarkably bold answer. In it Jesus shows that in his whole earthly life he manifests who the Father is, so much so that it would be futile to seek another way to discover the Father than the one Jesus offers. The Father's perfection has been fully expressed in the incarnate Son.

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The Son's demeanor toward the Father

Jesus' way of acting highlights the two aspects of the Father's fatherhood which we mentioned earlier: the aspects of generation and role modeling.

By reason of the fact that the Father is his origin, the incarnate Son envisions his whole earthly existence as a journey emanating from the Father and returning to him. St. John has formulated in explicit terms the understanding that Jesus had of this itinerary. In his account of the Last Supper, he presents Jesus as "fully aware that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was now returning to God" (Jn 13:3). This definition of Jesus' filial awareness is based on the words he spoke during the meal.

When Jesus said, "I'm going to the Father" (Jn 14:28), he wanted to make his disciples understand that this would be the supreme culmination of his life and work. It would enable even the disciples to accomplish greater works than Jesus himself had done during his earthly life (cf. Jn 14:12). Jesus did not hesitate to consider his departure to the Father as a source of joy for them: "If you loved me you'd rejoice that I'm going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I" (Jn 14:28). If the disciples succeeded in discovering in the Father the One who is the origin of Jesus and who had given them his Son, and in this sense is greater than the Son, they would be able to understand that the Master had to return to this Father and share his joy.

Jesus' last words before he died show that he accepted his death in this spirit: "Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit" (Lk 23:46). His last use of the invocation "Abba" takes on its fullest meaning here. Jesus added it to the words of a Psalm (Ps 31:6) addressed to Yahweh, Surrender into the hands of Almighty God is already a noble gesture; surrender into the hands of one's "Abba" is more readily done and with greater ardor. Whereas the Psalmist sought to escape death, Jesus was fully accepting this death as a supreme act of entrustment to the Father.

We must not forget that this return to the Father which guided Jesus' earthly life manifested in the concrete circumstances of daily living what had eternally been his approach as the Son. As John's Prologue states: "The Word was with [oriented to] God" (Jn 1:2). This was so from "the beginning." The Word was therefore in a dynamic situation, oriented or reaching out to the Father in an eternal face to face encounter. Having come forth from the Father as his origin, his whole person was directed to the Father. When the end of the Prologue, in a yet more evocative way, describes him as the only Son who is "at the Father's side," "nearest to the Father's heart" (Jn 1:18), deep in the Father's bosom, we understand that his return to the Father does not remain outside the Father but reaches the innermost depths of the Father's being. The depth of the Son's origin in his generation is equalled by the depth he attains in his return to the Father. Moreover we know that this eternal encounter between the Father and the Son is consummated in the Holy Spirit. But here we are focussing our gaze and our inquiry on the mystery of the divine fatherhood and on the divine sonship which responds to it.

In addition to the movement that consists in going toward the Father, the Son's filial response involves the imitation of the Father, in the wish to bear the Father's likeness in all things. The mode of conduct Jesus recommends to his disciples, "So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48), was his own mode of conduct. He attained in his human existence a perfection that completely reflected the perfection of the Father.23

That is how Jesus' obedience must be understood, for even as he carried out the Father's will, he also sought to model his human life on the Father's perfection. For this reason it was an obedience that involved all his human resources in filial imitation. The prayer at Gethsemane brings out the heartrending travail which his obedience involved, complete with the prospect of his approaching death. It allows us to sense the Saviour’s inner anguish.

In conforming his will to the Father's, Jesus discerned a solemn command, yet he knew that the Father, in sending his Son into the world, was the first to commit himself to the path of sacrifice. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten (Jn 3:16). It is this supreme love which impelled Jesus to Calvary: the Father is the primordial model of commitment to the work of salvation, and the Son conformed to this model. He gave himself just as the Father gave himself in giving his Son.

Here filial obedience assumes its fullest value. More than mere docility to the Father's will, it is a total configuration to the Father's love, the mirror image of the Father's own mode of action.

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