Fifth day in the Octave of Christmas, December 29 – Reading


Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11

Today we look at the Second Condition of the four mentioned yesterday, if we are to ‘walk in the light’. And that condition is ‘to keep the commandments, especially that of love’.

The reading begins by saying that we know we have come to know God when we keep his commandments. Anyone who claims to know God but does not keep his commandments is a liar and that person is without truth. These words are clearly directed against the Gnostics who said that all that mattered was to be united with the spiritual. The material was evil and devoid of any reality. Hence anything done on the material level did not matter, including what we would regard as immoral, indecent, hurtful and violent actions against others. The commandments, therefore, in so far as they involved the material, including our own bodies and those of others, had no validity in their way of thinking.

We might add that, though we may not see ourselves as Gnostics, ‘knowing’ God is not something merely intellectual, it is not an obsession with doctrinal orthodoxy on which some people seem to base their adherence to the Church. To ‘know’ God is much more something relational, calling for love and intimacy and based on experience.

The letter says that anyone who follows the guidance of God, including of course actions involving what is material, is ‘in God’. And we have a very concrete example to follow: “Whoever claims to remain in such a person must act as he acted.” It is clear that the ‘he’ refers to Jesus, who is the human paradigm of God on earth and who is the example we are to follow. He is the Way.

The letter now goes on to say that what has just been said represents both an ‘old’ commandment but also a ‘new’ one. This section begins with the greeting: ‘Beloved’. The word is translated in various forms e.g. ‘my dear friends’ in the New Jerusalem Bible. The Greek is agapetoi, ‘agaphtoi, and comes from the word for ‘love’, agape, ‘agaph, which we will be discussing at length later on in this letter.

The ‘old commandment’ is expressed in the instruction to love God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves, a commandment going back into the Old Testament and still valid. It is also embraced by the Ten Commandments.

Yet, the letter is also bringing a new commandment. It is the ‘new’ commandment that Jesus gave, during the Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). In the Old Testament, the commandment to love the neighbour was one among many and there was some doubt as to who the ‘neighbour’ might be (cf. Luke 10:29). Jesus went much further. He asked his followers not just to love their neighbour as themselves but to love each other as he did. And, to make that perfectly clear, he later said that the greatest love a person could show was to give their life for their friends – just as he did. And that love was to be unconditionally extended to every single person. That is the way God himself acts – his love is extended to all, just as the sun shines and the rain falls on all equally.

Therefore, “whoever claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness”. The Gnostics, through their ‘special’ knowledge, believed they were in the light but by acting harmfully against their brothers and sisters, they were still in darkness.

On the other hand, “anyone who loves his brother remains in light…but whoever hates his brother is in darkness”. This is all we need to know live in the light – to extend an unconditional hand of love to every single person. So simple and so difficult! Those who refuse to live in this way are “walking about in darkness, not knowing where they are going”. Without this kind of love, they are blind.

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