Second Sunday after Christmas – Readings


Commentary on Sirach 24:1-4.12-16; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-18; John 1:1-18

1. There are four key words in today’s gospel:
Word; Light; Darkness; Flesh
To these could be added two more:
Witness; John
And, borrowing from the 1st and 2nd Readings:
Wisdom

Word:
In Greek it is logos and in Hebrew dabar. It is not just a spoken word but a creative, a doing, a making word. It is the source of reason and wisdom in God and, when uttered, is the creative expression of his vision.

At their best, words reveal the true inner person. Without words (including all forms of body language and communication), we cannot be known. (We see this, for instance, in people who are paralysed e.g. with strokes. We know they can understand but they have no way to get their ideas across to us.) It is through our words that people can know our inner selves. Yet, even at its very best, it is never more than a partial knowing, a partial revealing.

There is always more to the fullness of the inner person, not always known even to the communicator. In God, the Word is a total revelation of the inner being of God; in fact, the Word IS God. There is a total correlation.

However, the Gospel says the Word WAS God. Because here Jesus Christ, in his historical humanity, is being spoken of. Jesus was God. When he spoke, a man spoke and God spoke; when he did things, a man did them and God did them – e.g. healing, forgiving sins, restoring the outsider to the community…

And yet, the limitations that surround our own communications of our inner self also apply to Jesus. Jesus, limited by his humanity, could give a real but limited revelation of God’s inner self but it is more than enough to challenge our way of living.

There is an interesting correlation with Chinese religious philosophy. A Chinese scholar once said that the heart of China was expressed, not through Confucianism, which is a moral philosophy, but by Taoism, which is a religious philosophy.

Taoism comes from its central concept: the Dao. The word Dao literally means a ‘Way’ or a ‘Road’. The Dao points to the core essence of living, the Way to be followed. In many translations of the Bible into Chinese, the word Logos ( or ‘Word’ is translated by Dao. Jesus Christ is the Word and he is, as he described himself in John’s gospel, the ‘Way’. The vision of life that is communicated to us by the Word is the Way that we are to follow. The Logos is the Dao.

Wisdom:
The first two readings speak of Wisdom. The Logos is, in fact, the Wisdom of God and the source of our wisdom. Wisdom is quite distinct from knowledge. Knowledge is what is displayed by the expert participants in the television programme “Mastermind” or “Jeopardy”. There is no guarantee that these people are endowed with wisdom; on the contrary their private lives may be a total mess.

Wisdom comes not from knowledge or an advanced education but from insight into our life experience. Wisdom is the ability to see the relationships between things and the linked values of those relationships. Wisdom is to know, understand, accept and be able to follow the Way of life offered to us by Christ. It is not simply a question of a set of dogmas. It is a deep vision of what human life is really about. This is the light that the Gospel speaks about today.

Light and Darkness:
These are constant themes running through the whole of John’s gospel. Without the guiding Word of God, the world stumbles in darkness. The life and message of Jesus casts light on the meaning and direction of our lives. He is, as he will say later on in the same gospel, the Light of the world.

With that Light we are able to see (another central concept in the Gospel). We are enabled to have a vision of what life, human life, is about, how it should be lived, what is its ultimate goal. It clarifies what our relations need to be with ourselves, with others, with our natural environment and with God. It is no wonder that the healing of blindness is so central to the work of Jesus. Linked to this is the healing of deafness (the inability to hear with understanding) and the healing of lameness (the inability to walk the Way of Jesus).

Flesh:
The Word was made flesh. In Greek, the word for ‘flesh’ is sarx (); in Latin, it is caro. Some versions of the Bible translate this phrase as: ‘The Word became a human being’. Of course, this is what the phrase means but it weakens the impact of John’s original language.

‘Flesh’ in the Scripture nearly always has a pejorative connotation, it refers to our lower nature, from which our sinful actions emanate. Paul likes to contrast those living in the ‘flesh’ (slaves of sin) to those living in the Spirit (liberated to follow the Way of Jesus).

Jesus did not only become a human being, he entered fully into our human situation subject to all its weaknesses. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, speaking of Jesus as our High Priest: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise [empathise] with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And Paul, writing to the Romans: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).

The full sentence of John today is: “The Word became flesh and lived (literally, pitched his tent) among us.” The Son of God took on totally our human nature and shared totally in our human condition. He did not live on a higher plane of being. Again and again he was criticised for mixing with the sinners, outsiders, the scumbags, the flotsam and jetsam of life. He ended his life in appalling violence perpetrated by his fellow human beings, dying naked in terrible agony and shame as a convicted criminal. Truly, “he was made flesh”. This is something that many could not accept and still cannot accept: a scandal to the Jews (and Muslims) and a nonsense to the non-believer.

Witness and John:
Finally, to these concepts could be added two more: Witness and John.

Jesus is the Witness par excellence of who God is and what his vision is. Through his humanity, the Son of God gives us a visible access to the inner mind of God. His witness was not welcomed by all and he ultimately gave his life for the message to which he witnessed. In doing so, he gave the uttermost proof of human love, which in turn was a pale indication of the intensity of God’s love. Jesus was the first among “martyrs”, for ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’.

John the Baptist preceded the Word. His role was to give witness to the Light but he was not himself the Light. In many ways, the role of John is also ours. We are not the Light but we hope that, both individually and corporately, through our baptism and participation in the life of the Christian community, we give witness to the Light.

As Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world.” Our relation to Jesus is somewhat like that of the moon to the sun. Very often, clouds sweep across our surface and the light of the sun reflected in us becomes darkened.

We ask today that God grant us an ever-growing understanding of his Word, as unveiled for us in the life and words of Jesus. Let us be filled with its light and share that light with others
so that they, too, may have the precious experience of knowing Jesus and the happiness and peace that it brings.

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Words: 1363

Logos (Word) in John’s Gospel

a. Not simply a spoken word (like God’s words of creation in Gen 1), but the logos, in Greek thought the divine principle of reason that gives order to the universe and links the human mind to the mind of God.
(Harper Collins Study Bible, John 1:1)

b. Greeks used this term not only of the spoken word but also of the unspoken word, the word still in the mind — the reason [hence our terms ‘logic’ and ‘logical’].
When they applied it to the universe, they meant the rational principle that governs all things.
Jews, on the other hand, used it as a way of referring to God.
Thus John used a term that was meaningful to both Jews and Gentiles.
(NIV Study Bible, John 1:1)

c. The OT speaks of the Word of God, and of his Wisdom, present with God before the world was made (see Prov 8:22e; Wis 7:22i). By it all things were created; it is sent to earth to reveal the hidden designs of God; it returns to him with its work done, Prov 8:22-36; Wis 9:9-12; Sirach 24:3-22; Is 55:10-11.
On its creative role, see also Gen 1:3,6; Judith 16:14; Ps 33:6; Sir 42:15; Is 40:8,26; 48:13;
on its mission see Ps 107:20; 147:15-18; Wis 18:14-16.
For John, too, 13:3; 16:28, the Word existed before the world in God, 1:1,2; 8:24g; 10:30p; it has come on earth, 1:9-14; 3:19; 9:19; 12:46, see Mk1:38n, being sent by the Father, 3:17,34; 5:36,43; 6:29; 7:29; 8:42; 9:7; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3,25; cf. Lk 4:43, to perform a task, Jn 4:34k, namely, to deliver a message of salvation to the world, Jn 1:33x; 3:11e;
with its mission accomplished it returns to the Father, Jn 1:18; 7:33; 8:21; 12:35; 13:3; 16:5; 17:11,13; 20:17.
The Incarnation enabled the NT, and especially John, to see this separately and eternally existent Word-Wisdom as a person, but this personification is present also in other passages, such as Heb 1:1-2; 1 Jn 1:1-2; Rev 19:13.
(New Jerusalem Bible, John 1:1)

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