Sixth day in the Octave of Christmas, 30 December – Reading

Commentary on 1 John 2:12-17

We come to the Third Condition in order ‘To walk in the light’. This is ‘detachment from the world’.

The writer reminds his readers that their sins have been forgiven through the name of Jesus. And he addresses his words to the different generations in families – to the fathers, the young, the children and the parents. In various ways he says basically the same thing: they have come to know Jesus, “the One who has existed since the beginning”, and the Father and have overcome ‘the Evil One’, who is not, however, as in the Gnostic way of thinking, to be identified with the material world. He is rather the Source of Darkness who leads people away from the Light that is Life.

At the same time but not in a Gnostic sense, the author tells us not to love the ‘world’ or what is in the ‘world’. The word ‘world’ has two meanings in John’s writing. On the one hand, it can refer simply to the material environment in which we find ourselves and includes everything in our planet and the whole universe. In other words, it refers to God’s creation which the Creator found ‘very good’. “God saw everything that he had made and indeed it was very good” (Gen 1:31). We are called by the Gospel to be very much part of that world, to be fully inserted in it. “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13. And indeed we are an integral part of it: we come from it and at the end we go back to it – “Dust you are and back to dust you will return.”

On the other hand, ‘world’ also refers to all that thinking among people which is far from the thinking of God, as presented to us in revelation and especially through the witness of Jesus the Word. So, in this sense, we speak negatively of people being ‘worldly’. “If anyone does love the world, the love of the Father finds no place in him.” By embracing those things which are in conflict with the vision of God, we close ourselves to his love for us. This is the ‘world’ from which we must be detached.

These ‘worldly’ inclinations are summed up in the letter by “desire of the flesh, desire of the eyes, pride in riches”. ‘Desire of the flesh’ includes not only sexual indulgence but every form of uncontrolled physical gratification. ‘Desire of the eyes’ includes all forms of greed and envy for what others have. ‘Pride in riches’ points to all forms of arrogance or ostentation in one’s lifestyle where people put themselves as the centre of attention with little regard for the needs of others.

These three tendencies refer to uncontrolled sensuality by which other people and oneself are reduced to mere objects of pleasure, to uncontrolled greed to have everything one lays one’s eyes on (what today often comes under the term ‘materialistic consumerism’) and an uninhibited desire for personal wealth and the power over others that goes with it. These are all in total contradiction to the vision of the Kingdom where the over-riding passion is to find one’s happiness in the well-being of others, in living one’s life with only what is really necessary and a desire to create a world of sharing, where everyone gives and everyone gets.

“The world, with all its disordered desires, is passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains for ever.”

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