This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, 1 John 2:3-11
3 In this way we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says, ‘I know him’ without keeping his commandments, is a liar, and truth has no place in him. 5 But anyone who does keep his word, in such a one God’s love truly reaches its perfection. This is the proof that we are in God. 6 Whoever claims to remain in him must act as he acted.
7 My dear friends, this is not a new commandment I am writing for you, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the message you have heard. 8 Yet in another way, I am writing a new commandment for you — and this is true for you, just as much as for him — for darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.9 Whoever claims to be in light but hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves his brother remains in light and there is in him nothing to make him fall away. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in darkness and is walking about in darkness not knowing where he is going, because darkness has blinded him.
There is not some super-salvation mode of knowing Jesus which allows people to neglect his commandments. If we sideline his commandments on wealth, non-violence, divorce or forgiveness, for example, we reveal how little we know him. John, the writer of this letter, has a tendency to reduce all Jesus’ commands to love of brother. This is the old command, “You shall love your neighbour (fellow Israelite) as yourself.” But it is not quite good enough as a summation of Jesus’ love which reaches out to the stranger and the enemy. We might ask the “apostle of love” if he knows Jesus as well as he thinks. The nice thing about commandments is that they are specific: best to keep them that way.
Gospel, Luke 2:22-35
22 And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord-23 observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord-24 and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
25 Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. 27 Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, 28 he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:
29 Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; 30 for my eyes have seen the salvation 31 which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; 32 a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel.
33 As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed-35 and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’
Jesus’ parents obeyed the commandment about the presentation of children in the Temple. Simeon has obeyed commands all his life, and like Mary belongs to the “poor of the Lord”, that is, those ordinary people who await in faith the coming of the Messiah. Because of his obedience, he is open to the prompting of God’s Spirit. He represents the possibility that Israel will welcome Jesus as her Messiah, as her true glory, to whom the Gentiles also will turn. But there is a dark note in Simeon’s farewell vision, “the fall and rise of many in Israel”, a “sign that is opposed”, the “sword that will pierce” Mary’s soul, all these point to Jesus’ rejection by his own people.
Luke defines salvation as Jesus: “my eyes have seen your salvation.” It is not an abstract spiritual transaction; it is God amongst us.
WARNING!! From Saturday 1st Jauary, this blog will be based on the Revised Common Lectionary as used by the Episcopal Church. My thanks to the Roman Catholic Church for the use of their daily readngs for Mass.
I really like how you understand Luke as ‘defining’ salvation as Jesus; I think this is a profound insight, and I want to think upon it some more.
Do you think this is as specific as, say, writing that his command is to love your neighbour?
Jesus for me is always specific. He is every story in the gospels, every witness in the epistles, the Acts and the Revelation; every presence in every sacrament; every individual person in his body; every promise of his coming again. In this respect I plead guilty to Bonhoeffer’s criticism of Barth, “A positivist of Revelation.” I am utterly oposed to any theological generality that is offered as a substitute for Jesus. He is my salvation, that is, he rescues me from evil, and releases me into goodness.
Well, I agree with you – Jesus is pretty specific, though from my vantage point he is still a little vague around the edges.
The point I would make to follow that up, is that my neighbour (Walter and Betty on the one side, and Marlene on the other) is quite specific too. So when the author of 1 John tells me to love him or her, then that command is a very definite one, with clear lines and a sharp outline. There is no need to castigate him at all – I think he knew what he was talking about.
Right, sorry, I misunderstood your concern. The point I’m making is that that 1 John doesn’t tell you to love your neighbour but to love your brother. My guess is that this means for 1 John first and foremost your Christain brother/sister in the believing community. If it doesn’t mean this, but means rather what the Scottish poet Robert Burns means by brother (that man tae man the world o’er/ shall brithers be for a’ that), then maybe he should have been less ambiguous.
When I refer to the old command to love your neighbour, I interpret its original intention as Moses would: to love your fellow Israelite. When Jesus was faced with this issue he told the story of the “good Samaritan” which turns the whole issue on its head and says, “when you’re in need you don’t ask about the racial or religious status of the person who neighbours you.” We are to “be neighbours” to those God gives us (where we live) and sends us (as we live).
I think the Letters of John show a Christian community which, perhaps due to outside pressure, has become inward- looking enough to change “neighbour” (the one God gives/ sends) into “brother” ( fellow believer).