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Verbum Perfectum

John 11.3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45


Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me – with these words Jesus of Nazareth addressed his Father in prayer during the raising of Lazarus. I would like to play a little philologist here and pay attention to two things arising from the grammar that Jesus uses.

The first thing is about the past tense in the phrase ” having heard me.” At first you get the impression that Jesus made a mistake. Lazarus has not yet been raised. A good English teacher would correct Jesus by saying, “It should be that you will hear me.” Fortunately, it’s not about the correct grammar, but about deep theological thought. Jesus uses the past tense for future things as an expression of absolute certainty that the Father is with Him and whatever He asks can be taken as a fact. Another thing also flows out of it. In a strict sense Jesus’ mission was not to teach, heal and raise. His mission was to do the Father’s will, and therefore everything that happens in Jesus’ life is planned by the Father. Jesus knows the Father and knows that in every situation His plan is fulfilled, which is to lead people to faith and thus to salvation. Jesus also mentions this at the beginning of today’s Gospel saying: ” This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus even before the tragic death of Lazarus knows that this is not about death, but about the announcement of the resurrection, which will also be a historical fact. But how does this analysis affect our lives? Why this philological introduction?

It seems that sometimes we look at God as absent in the present. We want him to act in our future, or we can see his actions in the past. Believing that God is with me here and now is one of the most difficult challenges God’s providence puts in front of us. God absent from the present becomes only a memory of the past or hope for an uncertain future. Such a God is half dead. Therefore, it is worth renewing my faith in God’s Presence, which stays with me constantly. After all, the words of The Acts of the Apostles say that “in him we live and move and have our being “.

The second thing we notice is not only the past tense in Jesus’ words, but also their aspect. In philology, we call this form of the verb the “accomplished aspect.” The point is that Jesus does not say “that you have listened to me” or “that you are listening to me”, but that he speaks of the Father’s action as accomplished. In Latin, this form of the verb is called verbum perfectum (literally the word fulfilled, wonderful, perfect). What a wonderful reality – God listening so deeply! God hears fully, wonderfully, perfectly. Nothing escapes His ears. Everything will be heard, acknowledged and accepted. This is an important thing for all who believe in God who is “with His ears closed”, insensitive, listless, indifferent to the call of a human. Every word, every thought, every intention reaches God. Furthermore, any request which is in accordance with His will can be regarded as made. Even St. Paul writes it to the Colossians, when he teaches them that “you have already risen in Christ,” and yet the resurrection is in fact before them (eschatology fulfilled). For God, however, time has a different meaning than for us. In Him we are heard today, redeemed, saved, and risen. Thank you, Father, that you hear us, that you are with us here and now. Be glorified for your presence, for being a real VERBUM PERFECTUM, a wonderful Word that lives among us!

[translated by StMichael.com]

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

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Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.

CCC 2559

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