Saturday after Epiphany or 12 January – First Reading

Commentary on 1 John 5:14-21

We come today to the last part of the Letter. It forms a kind of postscript to the rest of the work, much as chapter 21 is an epilogue to John’s gospel. It consists of two parts: a prayer for sinners; and then a final summary of the main points in the Letter. The section begins with an important definition of true prayer: Our confidence in God consists of this, namely, that God hears us whenever we ask for anything according to his will. It can happen in our prayer that we are just asking for something that we want and can feel disappointed or even angry when we do not get it.
But true prayer consists in trying to discover what exactly God wants of me under the firm conviction that he always wants the very best. It is not a question of me demanding of God that he give me what I want or I think I need. Nor is it fatalistically submitting to a God who does things I don’t want to happen. Rather, it is a matter of God’s will and mine being brought fully into harmony, so that I really want (not just am prepared to accept) what he wants. My will and God’s will coincide. I am doing what he wants and I am doing what I want! The secret of much happiness is right here and is the ultimate goal of Christian living.
One thing we are particularly urged to pray for here is a brother or sister who has gone astray in faith and/or morals so that life can return fully to that person. However, there are some who have committed “deadly” sins and for them there may not be much use in praying.
What is such a “deadly” sin? In the Gospel the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin against the Holy Spirit, that is, the sin of totally closing one’s mind to truth (cf. Matt 12:31-32). Once we have taken such a step and remain in that state, there is no way that we can be reached by a loving and forgiving God. As long as a person is in this state, they are beyond help. Nevertheless, it would seem that we could pray that such an attitude might change.
In the context of this letter it could refer to those who have abandoned their Christian faith and become apostates perhaps under the pressure of persecution. To save their skins, they have given up the Truth that is Christ; they have closed a door which only they can reopen.
It could also refer to those heretics who denied the Sonship of Jesus, either partially or totally, or those who had taken up a Gnostic position which, on the one hand, believed in separating oneself entirely from all that is material in this world and then, by a perverted kind of logic, believed in living a totally amoral life. (If matter is an evil to be avoided and is destined to non-existence, does it really matter what you do with it? Does it matter what you do with your body or someone else’s?)
Another view is that it is a serious sin that results in physical death, hence putting the person beyond prayer.
In the final summary of his letter, the writer makes three statements all beginning with: “We know…”
First, we know that no one who is a child of God sins. As long as one is consciously committed to Christ and has totally submitted their life to his Way, sin is a contradiction. The two cannot co-exist.
Second, we know that true Christians belong to God while the “world” is under the influence of evil. Being a Christian (in a real and not just a notional sense) and being under the influence of the “world” are again mutually exclusive.
Third, we know that the Son of God has come to teach us how to distinguish and recognise the presence of God in our lives. By being “in” Jesus Christ we are also “in” God who sent him among us. This is the blessed role of Jesus, to be God made visible so that we know how and where we can find God in our lives.
In conclusion, we are warned to be on our guard against idols. There is a sharp antithesis between the children of God and those belonging to the world and to the evil one. In the context of the letter, it is a warning against the many idols in which the surrounding peoples believed and in the idol of the emperor as a divine being to which no Christian could give an allegiance which was due only to God. Many died martyrs because of their refusal to worship the emperor’s image. But there must have been many who caved in because of fear.
Perhaps we are not touched by such idols today (even when we live in places with statues of gods and deities) but there are many other idols of a more subtle kind which we can easily fail to recognise as such – materialism and consumerism, the obsession with money and wealth, the cult of sex and even of the body, the slavery to image and fashion, the cult of the hero be it in the media or in sports (‘fans’ = fanatics, a word used to describe the actions of frenzied worshippers in another age). Obsession with such idols can blind us to the very real needs – material, social, spiritual – of those around us. Then we fail in the essential quality of being a child of God – love for each other.

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