This blog has followed the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church in 2009. In 2010 it will continue to do so, but with a more personal note.
Reading 1, 1 John 2:18-21
18 Children, this is the final hour; you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and now many Antichrists have already come; from this we know that it is the final hour.
19 They have gone from among us, but they never really belonged to us; if they had belonged to us, they would have stayed with us. But this was to prove that not one of them belonged to us.
20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and have all received knowledge.
21 I have written to you not because you are ignorant of the truth, but because you are well aware of it, and because no lie can come from the truth.
Every now and again, a kind of hysteria afflicts Christian teachers and they claim that the last hour has arrived. Often this has to do with opposition within the Christian community, which is categorised as anti-Christian and expelled. John is a wonderful author, the first person to define God as love, yet this is surely an over-reaction, even if the events, which led to a parting of the ways, were serious. Opposition, even betrayal, is not the end of the world. Most last hour talk is daft. (Note for transatlantic readers, “daft”: an affectionate Scots word for “silly.”) If we’d been part of John’s community we’d have urged him respectfully, “Those lines are not worthy of you.”
Gospel, John 1:1-18
1 In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him.
4 What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men;
5 and the light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.
6 A man came, sent by God. His name was John.
7 He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him.
8 He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light.
9 The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him.
11 He came to his own and his own people did not accept him.
12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name
13 who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself.
14 The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John witnesses to him. He proclaims: ‘This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.’
16 Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received — one gift replacing another,
17 for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Bible scholars have taught us to distinguish: John, son of Zebedee, disciple of Jesus; John, author of John’s Gospel; John, author of the Letters of John. Without doubt, however, there is some connection between the two authors who use similar vocabulary and share a theological perspective. Scholars suggest the existence of one or more Johannine churches, in which the Gospel and the Letters were produced. Whoever produced them, the first 18 verses of the Gospel of John are a theological masterpiece, bringing together different strands of contemporary thought to define the mystery of Jesus Christ. I say “define the mystery” not “define Jesus Christ” because the mystery is deepened rather than dissipated by his words.
He says that Jesus is Word and Son of God. The Word is God’s “communicative self” from the “beginning”, that is, from the unimaginable time before time. It is possible to distinguish God and the Word but not to separate them: they are God. God-and-the-Word share in the creation of the universe, and everything that has come into existence is alive with divine life, which is also the real light for human living. It has always been possible to reject the illuminating Word, but those who have received and trusted Him, are being reborn as children of God. Their real birth is not biological but is of God. (The doctrine of divine birth used of Jesus by Matthew and Luke is used by John of believers). The Word became flesh, John says. The most intimate communication of God’s life became material, mammal, human, in Jesus. The Word, “pitched his tent” among us. John uses the word which in old bibles is sometimes translated “tabernacled,” reminding the smart reader of the Tabernacle of God, the Ark of the Covenant. For John the ancient Ark is a mere sign of the real presence of God in Jesus, and in his human children. Through Moses, God gave the splendid gift of the law, but through Jesus, grace and truth, that is, kindness and transparency, which are even more splendid.
The Greek theologian John Zizioulas speaks of how young people from the villages near his house join him happily, to “do theology.” We don’t all need to be scholars, but we can all enjoy fashioning our own “words about God”. This section of John’s Gospel is a good place to start.
New Year blessings to all who may read this!