"Without any understanding of man's deep-seated urge to self-transcend, of his very reluctance to take the hard, ascending way, and his search for some bogus liberation either below or to one side of his personality, we cannot hope to make sense of our own particular period of history or indeed of history in general, of life as it was lived in the past and as it is lived today. For this reason I propose to discuss some of the more common Grace-substitutes, into which and by means of which men and women have tried to escape from the tormenting consciousness of being merely themselves. .... human beings have felt the radical inadequacy of their personal existence, the misery of being their insulated selves and not something else, something wider, something in Wordsworthian phrase, 'far more deeply interfused'." (Aldous
Huxley, "Appendix" from The Devils of Loudun, Penguin Books, 1971, 313f.)

Second Sunday of Christmas (Jan 5 2014)

Notes on the Gospel

JGospel

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'"

From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him. (John 1:1-18)

Introductory notes

1. John sets out the main themes of his Gospel in this Prologue – life, light, truth, the world, testimony, and the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, who reveals God the Father. This Prologue was probably an early Christian hymn. For similar “hymns” see Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:6-11.

2. John uses the same phrase as is found at the very start of the Bible: “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). We might reasonably assume that John sees this account of “the Word made flesh” as telling of a new creation:

“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.”

3. John refers to “The Word” (Greek logos). This should not be read as representing a merely Greek view of the Incarnation. John’s use of Logos suggests a rich combination of Jewish tradition – God's dynamic, creative word (Genesis) and God’s personified pre-existent Wisdom as the instrument of God's creative activity (Proverbs) – and Greek thinking – the ultimate intelligibility of reality (Hellenistic philosophy).

4. John’s use of the metaphors of light and darkness was a common one in his time for the contrast between good and evil. In fact, it remains a common enough metaphor in our own usage.

5. John makes it clear that this is all the work of God by using the word “sent” – John is sent just as Jesus is sent, John has a subordinate role in this divine mission.

6. Scholars believe that John is explicitly countering a docetic by his reference to “the flesh”. The word implies the whole person. See also 1 John 4:2; 1:7. One modern theologian quotes St Jerome:

“While the Apostles yet remained upon the earth, while the blood of Jesus was almost smoking upon the soil of Judaea, some asserted that the body of the Lord was a phantom.” (St. Jerome, (d. 420 CE); quoted in T. E. Pollard, Johannine Christology and the Early Church, 19 footnote)

7. The expression “made his dwelling” – literally, "pitched his tent/tabernacle" – is clearly a reference to the tabernacle or tent of meeting that was the place of God's presence among his people of the Exodus (see Exodus 25:8-9). The incarnate Word is the new way God is present among his people.

In this same sentence John “we saw his glory” – the Greek verb has the same consonants as the Aramaic word for God's presence (Shekinah). “The glory” is God's visible manifestation of majesty in power, which once filled the tabernacle (see Exodus 40:34) and the temple (see 1 Kings 8:10-11, 27), and it is now centered in Jesus.

8. Some scholars see a link between the terms used in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the Covenant relationship – God’s love and fidelity (see Exodus 34:6) – and John’s use of the terms grace and truth.

If we follow that line of thinking, “grace in place of grace” might refer to the New Covenant that fulfils and replaces the Old Covenant.

9. The rendering of the Greek, monogenes theos, as “the only Son, God”, follows the best and earliest manuscripts, but takes the first term to mean not just "Only One" but to include a filial relationship with the Father – as in Luke 9:38 ("only child") or Hebrews 11:17 ("only son") and as translated at earlier in the Prologue as “the Father's only Son”(see John 1:14). The Logos is thus "only Son" and God but not Father/God.

Our text

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.

This text responds to the question, Who am I? It goes to the heart of the matter of identity.

In the normal course of events we tend to describe ourselves in terms of our family of origins, our culture, our ethnicity, perhaps our religious commitment and – more commonly today – our work. Our text does not discount this but it does point to a much deeper source of identity.

I am who I am because of God. Family of origin, culture, ethnicity and so on, are secondary and do not touch the essence of me.

Whilst this might not be an acceptable way to speak in normal discourse, it ought to be part of our normal thinking. If it is not, we will too easily be trapped into thinking we are what those various human fabrications say we are. If we are so trapped, we will also be vulnerable to manipulation and the development of a false self.

See Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Unless I am “born from above” I am not.

“One of the most important and characteristic themes of Christianity is that of' the renewal of the self, the ‘new creation’ of the Christian ‘in Christ’. The all-too-familiar oversimplification of Christian belief, which makes it seem to be a formalistic method of gaining for ourselves a place ‘in the other world’ as a reward for good work and sufferings in the present life, obscures the real meaning of the Christian's metanoia, our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ by baptism and the eucharistic life of self-forgetfulness and fraternal love. This death to the ‘old self’ and new life in the Spirit sent by Christ ‘from the Father’ means not only a juridical salvation ‘in heaven’ and ‘in the hereafter’ but much more a new dimension of one's present life, a transformation and renewal not only of the Christian as a person but of the community of believers, the brotherhood and sisterhood of those who have received ‘the Spirit of Christ’ and live in ‘the grace of Christ’.” (Thomas Merton, “Rebirth and the New Man in Christianity” in Love and Living, Bantam Paperbacks, 1979, 173.)

Michael Whelan SM