5th Day in the Octave of Christmas – First Reading

Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11

The first part of John’s Letter (1:5 – 2:28) can be entitled: ‘To walk in the light’. It is divided into four ‘conditions’ for doing this. Yesterday’s reading described the first condition, which was ‘to break with sin’. Today’s reading looks at the second condition 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, but:

Whoever says, “I have come to know [God]”, but does not obey his commandments is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist…

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.  According to the Gnostic way of thinking, the commandments, thus, insofar as they involved the material, including our own bodies and those of others, had no validity.

We might add that, though we may not see ourselves as Gnostics, ‘knowing’ God is not something merely intellectual. Nor is it 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 actions involving what is material, is ‘in God’. And we have a very concrete example to follow:

…whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk in the same way as he walked.

It is clear that the “him” 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 not only 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 and comes from the word for ‘love’ (agape) 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 to 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:

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (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 (see 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 says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the 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:

Whoever loves a brother or sister abides in the light…

This is all we need to know to live in the light – to extend an unconditional hand of love to every single person. So simple and yet so difficult! One who refuses to live in this way:

…walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go…

Without this kind of love, they are blind.

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