We are privileged to hear in today’s Gospel our Lord revealing something of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Our Lord is responding to opposition amongst the Jews to what He is saying about His own equality with the heavenly Father.
The accusation “making himself God’s equal” is an accusation of some sort of megalomania, or we might say, “mega delusions of grandeur”. But our Lord is keen to emphasise that His relationship with the Father is not that of a wayward son drunk with power, but a relationship of both complete unity and also hierarchy. In God the Trinity there is both perfect unity and equality, but also hierarchy. As with much of our understanding of the life of God in the Trinity it is tricky to get our heads around it. We tend to try to project our own experience on to God which always results in dodgy theology. We tend to think equality and hierarchy are opposite and we have to choose between the two. We see this for example in politics with communism/socialism and feminism essentially rejecting hierarchy as something intrinsically wrong.
Our Lord does not project human ideas onto God of course, but is revealing to us the way the relationship is. The Son does nothing independent of the Father but does the Father’s will. The Father loves the Son and reveals to the Son everything the Father does. Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone He chooses. Judgement has been given to the Son by the Father. And so those that honour the Son, honour the Father. And those that refuse to honour the Son refuse honour to the Father. The Father is the source of life and has made the Son the source of life. And because the Son is incarnate, because He is both divine and human, the Father has made the Son judge. Though as judge the Son judges as the Father tells Him to!
The inner life of the Holy Trinity as revealed by God the Son is also our goal as Christians, for we are called to divine life which is heaven. And so because the Church on earth (Church militant) is those journeying towards this divine life, the Church is structured both with hierarchy and with equality of communion. But this is a necessary part of preparing for heaven. Of course the Church militant gets it wrong* and we can develop the Church structure to make it closer to the divine life (especially through greater holiness), but nevertheless we cannot restructure the Church in order to fit in with contemporary, human ideas.
The Father has made the Son our judge because the Son knows what it is to be human. Judgement is not to do with a fearful figure wagging his finger in our direction, but our deeds themselves judging us and showing to what extent we were willing to cooperate with the grace our Saviour brings us through His self-giving on the Cross. Judgement is truth.
So let us continue our Lenten journey in the secure knowledge of God the Son’s giving of Himself for our salvation, and that our work is to cooperate with all the grace He is pouring on us, grace that is life for us.
* Our Lord warned the Apostles against “lording” it over others ; though they were high up in the hierarchy of the Church they were to consider themselves servants. And this has been echoed by our recent Popes, not least, Pope Francis. Authority and power are given not to “lord” it over others, but in order to be able to serve them, more specifically, to bring them grace and order. That does not mean the hierarchy is greater than the laity, nor that the work of the hierarchy is more important than the laity. This is where clericalism comes in – trying to make the laity like clerics is clericalism. But for the Church to function well the laity need to be the laity, served by the clergy.