Friday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 John 4-9
The three Letters of John seem to have been all written about the same time, by the same person and probably from Ephesus. The dates suggested vary from 85-100 AD. Today we have a reading of just six verses from the Second Letter, which is actually the shortest “book” in the whole of the New Testament, not even taking up one page in most Bibles.

The author call himself “the Elder” which indicates a level of authority over the community to which he is writing. Whether he is to be identified with John the Apostle is not certain, but also not very likely.

The Second Letter was written to a church under the jurisdiction of the Elder, and referred to in the reading as “dear Lady”. This was in reply to people who were publicly denying the truth of the Incarnation, that Jesus was truly God and Man. In the opening words of the Letter, she is called “Chosen” or “Elect” Lady.

Today’s reading is in two parts. In the first part, the author congratulates the church for following the true teaching, “the life of truth as we were commanded by the Father”. He is writing to them, not with a new commandment, but with one they have had since the beginning, that is, since the time of their conversion – namely, that they should love one another. Loving God and loving the neighbour was not a new commandment. In the Gospel, they are given as the most important of Jewish laws, quoting from Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18. But, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave a “new” commandment which was to “love one another as I have loved you”. Jesus will spell that out by saying that the greatest love a person can give is to give one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus called his disciples his “friends” and he gave his life for them. That is now to be the paradigm for our relationship with those around us.

In this Letter, this commandment is simply being re-emphasised. To love, says the Elder, is to live according to Jesus’ commandments, which can all be summed up in the one commandment: “to live a life of love”.

Love, however, should not blind them to the truth. And that brings us to the second part of the reading. The author warns his church about those who are denying that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”. In other words, they are denying the true humanity of Jesus. The Gnostics taught that the Son of God did not become a human being but that he temporarily came down upon the man Jesus between his baptism and his crucifixion.

They held this belief under the conviction that all material things were evil, and the good person should withdraw as far as possible from the material world. In this situation, God could not have taken on a material body. He only had the temporary appearance of being linked to a human.

The teachers of this doctrine are called here the “Antichrist” because they deny the very essence of what we believe Jesus Christ to be. The Christians are warned that to follow this teaching could jeopardise their faith and their ultimate salvation.

The author assumed his readers knew that a great enemy of God and his people was expected to appear before Christ’s final return. That person is called “Antichrist”, the “Man of Lawlessness” and (in Revelation 13:1-10) “the Beast”. But prior to him, there will be many other antichrists. In the Letters of John they have the following characteristics:

  • they deny the incarnation and that Jesus is the divine Christ;
  • they deny the Father;
  • they do not have the Father;
  • they are liars and deceivers;
  • they are many;
  • in John’s day they left the church because they had nothing in common with believers.

The ‘antichrists’ referred to in John’s letter were the early Gnostics. The Elder warns that those who do not keep to the Church’s teaching about Christ but go beyond it, as the Gnostics claimed to do, cannot be with God. They went beyond the apostolic teaching by indulging in pure speculation and presenting that as the teaching and belief of the Church.

However, says the Elder, only those who remain faithful to the original teaching are in union with both the Father and the Son. Because, as Jesus had said, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:10).

The passage highlights two contrasting attitudes we need to have as Christians. On the one hand, our lives are to be governed entirely by the law of love, loving each other to the same degree that Christ has loved and continues to love us. It must be the touchstone of all our living.

But loving does not mean turning a blind eye to what is against the true or the good. It does not mean absolute tolerance for any idea or any action. We do not love people by turning a blind eye to the harm they may do to themselves or others, by ideas they hold, or the behaviour they indulge in.

In another part of this letter, the Christians are told to avoid giving to false teachers the hospitality traditionally extended to travelling teachers. The Gospel speaks of expelling people from the community when their behaviour is quite out of keeping with the standards that the Church wishes to maintain to be a credible witness to the Gospel. Yet, love remains the criterion. Expulsion lasts only as long as there has been no repentance or reconciliation.

The Church, like its Master, wishes that people be saved and not condemned.

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