Today’s blog uses the daily reading of the Reformed Churches, along with a headline from world news.
NORTH KOREANS IN A BUS YESTERDAY
The first letter of John chapter 1
It has existed from the beginning;
we have heard it;
we have seen it with our own eyes;
we have watched it;
and touched it with our hands-
We are talking about the Word of Life.
That life was made visible;
we saw it and give our testimony
announcing to you the Eternal Life
which was with the Father
and has been revealed to us.
What we have seen and heard we announce to you
so that you also may share our life.
Our life is shared with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing this to you so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him
and announce to you;
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
If we say we share God’s life
while we live in darkness
we are lying because we are not living the truth.
But if we walk in the light
as he is in the light
we share one another’s life
and the blood of Jesus his Son
cleanses us from all sin.
If we say we have no sin
we are liars and strangers to the truth.
But if we confess our sins
he is faithful to us and just
so that he will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from all evil.
(This is my own translation of this passage based on the New Jerusalem Version, which is better than most modern and ancient versions in its revolutionary translation of the Greek “koinonia” usually rendered “fellowship” as “shared life.” This preserves the root meaning of word in Greek as “sharing”of some kind-a business enterprise, a social club, a partnership.)
I think this letter is addressed to people who already share some of the writer’s beliefs. They may have been a Christian community whose beliefs and practices the writer thought fell short of the full gospel. The letter focuses on Jesus as a real human being who is also the bearer of the eternal life of God. The gift of life is not for those who imagine themselves as perfect but for those who acknowledge their sinfulness. Nor is it just the transmission of divine wisdom but a process of cleansing through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. In faith, the writer says, we share each other’s life and the very life of God. This double sharing cannot be split: we cannot love God if we do not love our brothers and sisters; nor can we rightly love each other if we do not love God, the source of love.
1. The use of “we”. The writer speaks on behalf of a community which goes back to the disciples of Jesus. Although probably all such were dead by the time of this letter, they, the original witnesses, are still part of the community, which adopts their witness as its own. The members of the community have “touched the Word of Life” through them. In this way we too, in 2013 can say ” we have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes.”
The use of “we” however is not exclusive. As the letter develops this pronoun is expanded to include the readers. This is a true evangelical method: those to whom the gospel is announced are never “them” but always “us.” That’s why the communication of the message brings joy to the communicators: it expands and deepens the shared life.
2. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all”. This means that God is shining goodness and there is only goodness in him. God has no mixed nature, no vengeance that demands the death of the sinner, or even of his Son in the place of the sinner. No, God’s goodness shines out on all creation revealing the evil in people’s lives. People can refuse this light and hide in darkness, but those who choose to live in it find that the cross of Jesus breaks their hard hearts and washes away the sin that separates them from God. This teaching of the “light of God’s goodness” is unique to the “John-books” of the New Testament. (See John’s Gospel chapter 8 and 9 “Jesus.the Light of the World.”)
3. According to John in this passage it is not the mercy of God which forgives our sin, but his “faithfulness and justice”! God is true to his children in spite of their sin and his justice is a transformation rather than a judgement. This should prevent us thinking that we are true disciples as long as we have mercy as well as judgement on others. In fact, we have not really learned from Christ until our judgement itself is merciful.
This is a very rich piece of scripture which yields its treasure gradually.