Category: 1 John

Born of God — Lectionary Reflection for Easter 6B (1 John 5)

1 John 5:1-9 New Revised Standard Version

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son.

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                Jesus’ famous conversation with Nicodemus focused on the question of what it means to be born again/born from above (Jn. 3:1-10). Nicodemus had a difficult time getting his head around Jesus’ words because he was taking them literally. In doing that, he missed the point of rebirth. That is, to be in Christ is to become a new creation. Literalism too often gets in the way of hearing the message of Jesus.  Such was the case with Nicodemus. We encounter a similar word here in chapter 5 of 1 John. The author of the letter/sermon, who is known as John, speaks of being born of God, which I take to be the same as we read in John 3 (especially if we read this as being “born from above.” Rebirth here as in John 3 is connected to belief in Jesus as the Christ/Messiah. In other words, there is a lot of overlap between 1 John 5 and John 3.

                The imagery here is familial. John continues to envision the church as a family, in fact, the church is understood to be the children of God. To believe in Jesus as the Christ is to take on a new identity. We become part of a new family. John once again uses the language of love, noting that those who love the Father will love the child. So, if we if love God, we will love God’s children (the church).  We do this by loving God, which involves keeping God’s commandments. John doesn’t specify the nature of the commandments here, but he insists they are not burdensome. I would say that for John belief and obedience to the commands are one and the same. In other words, to believe that Jesus is the Christ is not simply giving assent to a creedal statement. It involves living for Jesus by obeying the commands of God. If we do this, then we will conquer the world. To put it differently, believing and loving, require doing. Lindsey Jodrey picks up on this noting that in Johannine literature, with the one exception of 1 John 4, where the Greek noun pistis is found, belief is understood to be a verb. Jodrey writes that “For John, one does not have faith. Rather, one believes. It is something you do, a muscle that you exercise. John cannot conceive of disembodied, inactive
‘faith’” [Connections, p. 274].  

                The reference to conquering the world reminds us that the early Christians held an apocalyptic worldview. They assumed that they were engaged in cosmic battles. We see this in the Gospels, in Paul’s letters, and in Revelation. It’s present here as well. From an apocalyptic viewpoint, the assumption is that the old world is passing away and a new world is emerging. To believe is to participate in this cosmic battle, though the weapons used here are not physical. They’re spiritual in nature. The good news that John has for us is that in this cosmic battle, God has the upper hand. In fact, that’s why we believe Jesus is the Christ. It is in his death and resurrection that victory has been achieved.

                This becomes clear in verse 6. Victory comes through belief/affirmation that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the one who came by water and blood. The Spirit testifies to this truth. So what does John mean by this? To be honest it is not clear. John may have in mind the birth of Jesus (water) and death (blood). There may also be sacramental connections—baptism (water) and eucharist (blood). It’s unlikely that John has a sacramental meaning in mind, so more likely we’re talking of Jesus’ birth and death being the key to victory.  The verse ends with an affirmation of the
witness of the Spirit of Truth.

                The reading from 1 John 5 ends, according to the lectionary, in verse 6. However, verses 7-9 are worth considering, as they add depth to the statement in verse six concerning the witness of the water, blood, and the Spirit. John writes that the water, blood, and Spirit all agree concerning the coming of Jesus. There is a trinitarian feel to the statement, but we shouldn’t push that too far. But, the point here is that they all agree concerning the ministry/person of Jesus, and beyond that God’s testimony is greater than any human testimony (the testimony of the Spirit). As we read this closing argument it appears that John is countering a docetic Christology that denies the messiness of the incarnation (water of birth and blood of his death). That does seem as if it is a major concern for the congregation, as the infiltrators who have disrupted congregational life may have been denying the reality of Jesus’ physical existence, including his death. But, the Spirit of God bears witness to the truth that is revealed in the messiness of water and blood.  

                This gets us back to the opening lines concerning John’s reference to the children of God, those who are born of God. It’s appropriate for us to think here in familial terms, with John taking on a paternal role in his concern for the community’s welfare. This is the family of God and together they experience victory in Jesus. That is a good thing to remember in this individualistic world we live in. While the reasons why a “spiritual but not religious” movement has emerged, one that tends not to be institutionally connected, is understandable, John would have trouble conceiving of such an entity. The individualistic side of this movement is a modern reality, that presumes we’re all free agents, able to
connect with God on our own terms. John envisions instead a family into which we’ve been born. Here John is concerned about the threat of division. Schism was considered a great sin by the ancient church because it tore apart the family. It undermines the principle of love. God is love, and those born of God will love their siblings because that’s what family does. So, together as members of the family of God working together in the power of the Spirit we can conquer the world!

 Note: For more on 1 John, I suggest my book  The Letters of John: A Participatory Guide (Energion Publications, 2019).

Living the Love of God – Lectionary Reflection for Easter 5B (1 John 4)

 

 

 

1 John 4:7-21

 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. 

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

 

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                If there is one message that has been passed on to us from 1 John it is that “God is Love.” If this is true, then those who say they love God should “love one another.” The first is a confession of faith. The second is the expected result from making that confession. It is the way in which those who say they love God express that love for God. So, if we are to call ourselves children of God then we should be people known by our love for one another. That is the premise on which John bases his word of wisdom to a church that appears to be struggling. What was true of that congregation continues to be true down the centuries. Yes, even today the folks who populate our churches often struggle with connecting the dots. We say we love God, and we like to sing about being known for our love of one another, but if the polls to be believed, we’re not known for loving one another or anyone else for that matter. Instead, we are seen as a gathering of intolerant bigots. So, it appears we have a lot of work to do if we are to embody the message we find here in 1 John 4.

                As for the confession of faith. Yes, I agree with John that God is love. This is a foundational theological principle, and as Augustine reminds us love isn’t God, God is love [On Christian Belief, p. 170]. This is a basic premise of
“open and relational theology.” There is much that goes into that belief system because questions quickly rise about divine power and why bad things happen, especially to good people. One answer to that, which comes out of various forms of open and relational power, is that God is not all-powerful. At least that is true if love is considered uncontrolling and uncoercive. If that is true then God acts through persuasion. Thomas Jay Oord has written quite a bit on that score and should be consulted (see his books The Uncontrolling Love of God and God Can’t). That is, however, not the concern of the moment. More importantly here is the connection between the confession that God is love, which John takes as a given, and the way we live our lives as children of God. 

                This would be the ethical application of the confession that begins by recognizing the true exemplar of God’s love, and that would be Jesus. John writes that “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10). Note that we are to live through the Son, not just follow him but participate in his life. John also affirms the premise that God’s love for us is seen in the mission given to the Son, who was sent to be “the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Again, John doesn’t define his terms. In fact, John doesn’t mention the cross, only that he was an atoning sacrifice. Or perhaps it’s better to suggest that the love of God is sacrificial in nature. It takes risks. As I wrote in my book on 1 John: God is willing to give up everything so that we might once again experience oneness with God and with one another” [The Letters of John, p. 71]. As Paul Tillich reminds us, love is more than emotion. If it is only emotion, then love is merely sentimental. When understood ontologically, Tillich writes that “love is the moving power of life.”  In fact, “love is the drive toward the unity of the separated. Reunion presupposes separation of that which belongs essentially together” [Tillich, Love,Power, and Justice, pp. 24-25]. Could we think of John’s words about atonement here in terms of moving us in love toward “at-one-ment”?

                So, let us love one another as an expression of our love for God, remembering that it is God who first loves us. In other words, the love we show one another has its origin in God. If love is foundational, because God is love, and those who abide in God abide in love, then we should act accordingly. After all, John says that we’re liars if we say that we love God and don’t love our neighbors. How can we say we love God, whom we cannot see if we don’t love our neighbors whom we can see? It’s a good question. The only possible answer is to agree to love our brothers and sisters as an expression of our love for God. That’s because love ultimately has its origins in God’s love for us. If this all true, then John also teaches us that those who love should not live in fear, because love casts out fear. The reason John connects love and an absence of fear is that fear is an obstruction to love. We can’t love others if we fear them. So, let
us abide in God so that we might not live in fear, but instead live lives that express love. As Tillich reminds us, love brings things together! When we do that, we can truly live the love of God.

 Note: For more on 1 John, I suggest my book  The Letters of John: A Participatory Guide (Energion Publications, 2019).                   

 


Picture attribution: Stratz, Wayne; Almon, Margaret; Halstead, Suzanne. Love, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58120 [retrieved April 24, 2021]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nutmegdesigns/6209236367

True Love – Lectionary Reflection for Easter 4B (1 John

1 John 3:16-24 New Revised Standard Version

1We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

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                We can sing with gusto “they’ll know we are Christians by our love” but if we pay attention
to the polls the world isn’t so sure about that. Instead, the polls say that we Christians are better known for narrowness, hypocrisy, nationalism, bigotry, etc. While I might wish this wasn’t true, it’s hard to ignore the evidence. Of course, Christianity isn’t monolithic. There are Christians who are loving, compassionate, open-minded, gracious. I’m hopeful that I am counted among those kinds of Christians. Yes, I hope that I’m known to be a Christian because of my love.

                When we come to the second reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, a reading from 1 John 3, we’re told that Jesus shows us what it means to love others. According to John, Jesus expressed his love for others by laying down his life for us. As Mr. Spock told Jim Kirk, after going into the reactor room to save the ship at the cost of his own life, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Of course, in the next movie Spock is resurrected (do you see a pattern), but the point is well taken. That is what John would have us do as God’s children (1 John 3:1).

                John points us to the cross and tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross expresses God’s love for the world. But, in lifting up Jesus as our example, that doesn’t mean John envisions us all dying. Death is not the only way we can lay down our lives for others. What John wants us to hear is that to love is to concern ourselves with the needs of others. So, if we see someone in need, then love requires us to act. If we do this, then we demonstrate that God’s love abides
in us.

                John knows that it’s easy to say “I love you.” In fact, it’s easy to sing “they’ll know we are Christians by our love” but that doesn’t mean we have loved as Jesus would have us love. That is because love is more than words and feelings. As John puts it, love involves truth and actions. Love has something to do with truth and with action.

                When it comes to truth, we seem to be living in a post-truth era. Many have embraced the idea of “alternative facts.” As a result, many have embraced dangerous conspiracy theories. This is especially true for parts of the Christian community. If facts don’t matter then why bother checking things out. Just go to your favorite website or TV “news” host, and embrace their message. Unfortunately, this can have deadly ramifications, as we are seeing now with the anti-mask and anti-vax movements that have taken root within parts of the Christian community. As a result, the pandemic has spread more widely and more people die as a result—all in the name of faith.

                Love involves truth (not alternative facts or conspiracy theories). It also involves actions. As they way actions speak louder than words. Love is more than words; it involves investing our lives in the lives of others. So, for instance, I may not enjoy wearing a mask, but I wear it not only because it might protect me, but it also protects my neighbor, whom I called by God to love (Lev. 19:18). What John says here about love parallels what James says about faith. That is
because James believes faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17).

                So, how do we know if we truly love? John believes that our consciences will prove useful on this account. He writes that “if our hearts do not condemn us,” then we can have boldness before God. That clear conscience and boldness come as a result of our obedience to God’s commandments. It would seem that John envisions the relationship between God and God’s people as being reciprocal. In other words, it’s a real relationship that brings us together with God in a way that is transformative.

                As for God’s commands, we can really narrow things down to just two items. First, believe in the name of Jesus. That is, entrust your life to Jesus. It’s not simply believing the right things, though to believe does require content, it’s a commitment to following Jesus. We see this command laid out in Deuteronomy, where the people are told to love God with their entire being, body, soul, and spirit (Deut. 6:4-6). Secondly, we’re told in Leviticus to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:18). What Jesus did is bring the two commands together. There wasn’t anything new here, except the link between the two, which serves as the pathway to salvation (Mk. 12:28-31; Lk 10:25-28).  Here in the letter, we see John trying to keep belief and compassion together. We might think it’s possible to separate them, but in reality, they are inseparable. That’s because what we believe about Jesus says something about how and what we love. The opposite is also true. What we love is what we believe.

                So, to believe and to love in truth and action, as laid out here in 1 John, is to abide in Christ. This occurs by and through the work of the Holy Spirit.  As the hymn suggests: “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, God with me abide; when other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me” [Henry Lyte, 1847, Chalice Hymnal p. 636).  

 Note: For more on 1 John, I suggest my book  The Letters of John: A Participatory Guide (Energion Publications, 2019).  

Love is the Only Solution, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56342 [retrieved April 18, 2021]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/5653108193 – Thomas Hawk.

To Be a Child of God – Lectionary Reflection for Easter 3B (1 John 3)

 

 

1 John 3:1-10

 

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 

4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. 10 The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters

 

 

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                This Easter season we find ourselves in 1 John. While this letter/sermon is well known for reminding us that God is love, therefore we should love one another (1 Jn 4:7). As with the Gospel, the letter also reminds us that God is light. The first word we heard (last week) is that since God is light those who fellowship with God will also walk in the light (1 Jn. 1:5-7). One of John’s concerns is sin. At one level, John is realistic. Everyone sins, though they shouldn’t. However, since we do sin, God has provided us with an advocate to argue our  case before God. That advocate is Jesus, who also serves as the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 2:1-2). While John understands that sin is with us, he also challenges the community to live without sin. That is the issue that gets raised here in chapter 3, where John speaks to us as children of God (in contrast to those who are children of the devil).

                While John doesn’t give precise definitions of sin in the letter, we know he is concerned about schism and the denial that Jesus is the Christ. Thus, he is concerned about those persons, the antichrists, who walk in darkness and will, if they can, lead people astray. So, he spends much of chapter 2 warning against the influence of antichrists who are attempting to deceive them with their lies. These lies if embraced will lead to schism. John wants to prevent that from happening. With that as the background, we come to chapter 3 of 1 John.

             While the lectionary reading begins in verse 1 of chapter 3 and ends with verse 7, we would be well served to begin with 1 John 2:29, which declares: “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.” With that statement, we come to John’s word to the reader, whom he addresses as those who should be called children of God because of the love that the Father has given us. Our status as children, as those born of God, is rooted in God’s love. Of course, John has much more to say about love than what appears in this passage. If we might want to begin with 1 John 2:29, we might want to continue through at least verse 8, if not verse 10, where John contrasts the children of God with their opposites, the children of the devil. Part of his message here is that as children we will reflect our parentage in how we live our lives. If we are righteous, we reflect God as our parent. If not, then we demonstrate that the devil is our parent.

                I understand why the creators of the lectionary might want to stop in verse 7. It offers a more uplifting message. But, especially in this day and age, we need to address the other side of the coin. We moderns might find conversations about the devil problematic. History shows how references to the devil and the devil’s disciples have led to tragedy (think Salem witch trials). Nevertheless, the presence of evil in our world does suggest that we are facing spiritual problems that require spiritual answers. Perhaps John can help us with finding those answers.  

                When it comes to being a child of God (to be born of God) that will be reflected in a life that is not marred by sin. That is because, as we read in verse 9, God’s seed abides in those who are born of God. Thus, those born of God cannot sin. Another way of putting this is to say that because we are to be like Jesus, the Son of God, who does not sin, then the same should be true of us. On the other hand, if you’re a child of the devil, you’ll be like the devil. Since the devil has been sinning from the beginning, if you’re a child of the devil you will engage in sin. That is, instead of being righteous you will be devilish. his is stated in contrast to its opposite, that is, to be a child of the devil. If the latter, we will act in accordance with that identity.

                When we get to verse 8, John has something important to say about the mission of the Son of God (Jesus). He writes that the Son of God (Jesus) has been revealed to destroy the works of the devil. If we turn to the Gospels, we learn that Jesus was an exorcist. Yes, he cast out demons. That was the way he often healed. As Richard Beck points out not only did Jesus go around doing good, but he healed those who were under the power of the devil. In other words, his good works “are consistently described as spiritual warfare, as a battle he was waging with Satan.” Then Beck points us to this verse. [Reviving Old Scratch, p. 31].  I appreciate the word Beck brings to the conversation, as one who struggles with this idea of a devil/Satan. He urges us not to snip out (ala Thomas Jefferson) the stories of Jesus the exorcist. He writes that “We prefer to see Jesus as a moral teacher, especially when he calls out corrupt religious, political, and economic institutions. But if you excise the dramatic clash between Jesus and the Devil you eliminate the narrative glue that holds the Gospels together as a coherent story. If we want to understand what Jesus was up to in the world, we’ve got to confront his conflict with Satan and acknowledge how central that plotline is to the story being told in the Gospels” [Reviving Old Scratch, pp. 33-34]. 

                John is speaking here of spiritual warfare. There are those who oppose Jesus. They are the antichrists who, if successful, will destroy the community. John does not want that to happen. We live in challenging times. We are being pushed to accommodate ourselves to the world. It might be a message of America First. It might be a message of consumerism. It is that which divides and conquers, which takes on many different guises, all of which are at their base spiritual in origin.

                We read this passage during Eastertide as a reflection on the message of the resurrection of Jesus. If Good Friday is a sign of resistance to the righteousness of God as embodied by Jesus, his resurrection stands as a sign that those spiritual forces that resist God’s vision for the cosmos have been defeated. That is, the children of the devil may have their day, but in the end, they will succeed. Ultimately love will win. So, as we continue our celebration of Easter and with it the Resurrection, we’re invited to see the Resurrection of Jesus as the turning point in what can be described as spiritual warfare. As the Easter hymn declares: “The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!”  Yes, “the powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions has dispersed: let shouts of holy joy outburst. Alleluia!” (Latin, 1695; tr. Francis Pott, 1861). Oh, I understand the
resistance continues, but the battle has been won!  

    

Note: For more on 1 John, I suggest my book  The Letters of John: A Participatory Guide (Energion Publications, 2019).         

 

   Christ Cares for All, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57827 [retrieved April 10, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NatividadChurchjf8794_07.JPG.

Walking in the Light of God – Lectionary Reflection for Easter 2B (1 John 1-2)

1 John 1:1-2:2  New Revised Standard Version

 

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him, there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

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                Jesus has risen from the dead. That is the good news we proclaimed once again on Easter Sunday. We will continue to celebrate that message until we reach Pentecost Sunday (though in reality, we should celebrate the resurrection every Sunday and not just during one season of the year). The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter takes us to the story of Thomas’s encounter with the risen Christ. He won’t believe the message of the resurrection until he sees Jesus for himself. Thomas gets his wish. As for the rest of us, Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn. 20:19-31).

                As a reflection of what we read in the Gospel of John, the reading from 1 John, which accompanies the reading from the Gospel (the epistle readings for Year B come from 1 John—see my book The Letters of John: A Participatory Study Guide for more background on this letter). In this epistle, or perhaps better, this sermon, the author of 1 John writes: We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1). This is the word to those of us, who, unlike Thomas, do not have the benefit of a personal visitation from the risen Christ. We might not have the opportunity to see or to touch him in the way Thomas is said to have experienced the resurrection. Nevertheless, we can receive this testimony offered by the author of John and in believing it, we can receive the eternal
life that God has for those who believe. Having received the testimony, the admonition is to walk in the light, as God is light.

                Regarding this letter that looks more like a sermon or an essay than a letter, we know not its author or the date of its creation. Tradition connects it with John, son of Zebedee. It is presumed by tradition to share its authorship with the author of the Gospel of John. It does have similarities in style and vocabulary. We cannot know any of this for sure, but it likely comes from the same community that produced the Gospel. 

                This is the message that the author wants to pass on to the community: “God is light and in him there is no
darkness at all” (vs. 5). Not only is God light, but “if we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (vs. 6). On the other hand, “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (vs. 7). John connects God’s identity as light to our walk of faith. Fellowship is dependent on walking in the light of Christ. As Charles Couser points out, that ‘light’ is not a cosmic or intellectual symbol but is clearly an ethical one.” [Feasting on the Word, p. 397]. We are called upon to walk in the light, but John is realistic. He understands that we are likely to sin and fall short of what it means to walk in the light. In fact, if we say we do not sin, then we lie. But, if While sin is likely to occur, they will be cleansed from sin through the blood of Jesus. John seems to understand that sin is likely to occur because he tells the reader that if we say we do not sin, we lie, but if we confess our sins, that is, we’re honest about who we are, then we will be forgiven.  

                When it comes to sin, John wants to encourage his readers to pursue a life without sin. That should be our goal, to live in perfect harmony with the will of God. However, sin is likely to persist. So, this call to live a life without sin is aspirational. Now, John, at least to this point in the sermon, hasn’t defined sin, but we can use our own definitions of sin to interpret the message here.

                Although John is realistic about our propensity to sin, he does offer a solution to our problem with sin. When it comes to the propensity to sin, we are told that we have an advocate, a defense attorney, who will speak on our behalf. The Greek word translated here as “advocate” is parakletos. It’s the same word that appears in the Gospel of John, where Jesus speaks of the coming of the Spirit (Jn.16:7-11). In this case, the author of the letter uses parakletos to describe the work Jesus engages in as our advocate when charged with a propensity to sin. Not only does Jesus serve as our advocate, but he is also the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the entire world (1 Jn 2:1-2). Even as John doesn’t define what he means by sin, he doesn’t define atonement (Gk. Hilasmos). It’s unlikely that John has in mind here a form of penal substitution. Quite possibly he has in mind the idea that was prominent in Jewish literature of the era, in which the intercession of martyrs on behalf of the people might bring forgiveness (2 Maccabees 12:39-45). There is nothing here about the death of Jesus placating an angry God. What he does assume is that Jesus’ death on the cross mediates to us God’s forgiveness, doing so as our intercessor/advocate. He does this not for us only, but for the kosmos as well. Thanks be to God! And let us also walk in the light, even as God is light!

 

LeCompte, Rowan and Irene LeCompte. Christ shows himself to Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54879 [retrieved April 4, 2021]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/maryannsolari/5119341372/.