The Gospel of John records various key statements that Jesus uttered about himself which begin with the words “I am…” These statements reveal basic aspects of who he is and what he does for the world. They also reveal basic foundations of the pro-life movement.
Jesus declares, “I am the Bread of Life” (Jn.6:35), “I am the Light of the World” (Jn.8:12), “I am the Gate” (Jn.10:7), “I am the Good Shepherd” ( Jn.10:11), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn.11:25), “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn.14:6), and “I am the true Vine” ( Jn.15:1).
These are all images of life. Three of the statements use the word “life” explicitly; others employ the concepts of feeding, growth, protection, and leading us into the arena of life. These statements are the very opposite of darkness and death, decay and destruction, violence and nihilism.
At the root of these various “I am” statements is the “absolute I AM” statement found in John 8:58. The context is an argument Jesus has with the Jews in which he claims that he is the antidote to death. “If any one keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews asked how he could dare say that, in view of the fact that Abraham died. Was he claiming to be greater than Abraham? And Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM!”
The listeners recognized this right away as the very name of God. When God called Moses to set the people of Israel free, Moses asked God his name, and the Lord replied that his name was “I AM” (Ex.3:14).
This name of God can be understood on one level as asserting that only God has life in and of himself. Everything else that lives borrows life from him; he alone is “the living God,” the source of all being, the one who necessarily exists and can never not exist. This truth, of course, is foundational to the pro-life teaching of the Church. All life belongs to God, and to take a human life is to attack God.
But in a more dynamic sense, the name “I AM” means “I AM for you, I AM on your side, I AM rescuing you from death and destruction.” Note the context in which God reveals this name to Moses: He is calling him to set the people free from slavery in Egypt. Note also the context in which Jesus claims this name in John 8: He is also promising to set the people free. The discourse begins with his assertion, “The truth will set you free” (Jn.8:31), and, as we have seen, includes the promise, “If any one keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn.8:51).
God rescues his people from nothingness, and from violence like abortion. That is why the People of God are the People of Life. Rescued by Christ, we rescue our vulnerable brothers and sisters, and he rescues them through us.
Fr. Frank Pavone