The Appearance of Christ at the Cenacle, James Tissot, 1886-1894, Brooklyn Museum
(About this Image)
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
3rd Sunday of Easter
1 John 2:1-5a
April 18, 2021
Often if we look at a mountain on a cloudless day it will seem extremely close, yet it might be a walk of several days. The clarity itself may bring on what is in effect an illusion. This is an effective way of looking at the relationship between the Gospel of John and the Epistles. The Evangelist saw some things more clearly than he could express to the less gifted and complications ensured. This is most likely us.
Let us remember the framework for looking at the Letters of John which we introduced last week. There are four people who can be referred to as “John:”
- The first is the Beloved Disciple. He was an eyewitness of the events of the Gospel. Around him formed a community.
- One member of this community was a gifted writer and thinker we now call the “Evangelist.” He took the memories of the Beloved Disciple and organized them into a powerful series of stories and discourses now seen as the “The Gospel of John.” He expressed the “Good News” with exceptional clarity, and it animated and guided the original community. In many ways because of his sublime expression the community grew in numbers, diversity of members, and increased locations.
- Some of the Evangelist’s expressions were no longer as clear as he intended and needed to be explained and their real meaning defended. This was done by the “letters, of which we will read the first this Easter Season, clarified and expanded on misunderstood issues. The author or authors of these letters is called “the Presbyter” or Elder.
- Finally, these insights were incorporated into the Gospel itself by the “Redactor” or final editor.
Today’s reading (1 John 2:1-5a) is a wonderful example of this process and one perhaps we might find personally helpful.
In John’s Gospel Jesus tells us that he came:
So that they may all be one,(Jn 17:21)
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
Jesus offers us participation in the very life of the Trinity. Jesus offers us a new and risen life. It is qualitatively different than any possibility we can create or even imagine.
The Evangelist reflecting Pharisaical Judaism knew that the background to “risen life” was that God would raise all the dead to life at some point in the future. At that time, he would separate the just from the unjust and it would be the “end of time.” From this, he understood that Jesus was proclaiming that in his resurrection this has already occurred. Not only was he raised but that life would be given to all who “knew him.” As we will repeatedly find this would be misinterpreted by non-Jews.
They knew, rightly, that contact with the life Jesus offered would change them but took it to mean that after they “believed” they did not indeed could not sin. (1 John 1:8-9). How could they if they really were united to God?
The Presbyter gives his readers a lesson in Judaism. He says that Jesus is “expiation for our sins.” The Greek word hiasmos is only used in 1 John but it would have been understood as “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Even people born pagans would have understood that a sacrifice was a physical event which formed a relationship with God. The Presbyter then reminds them that the Jews understood this relationship to require living in a certain way.
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. (1 Jn 2:3)
This is as we now say: nonnegotiable.
Those who say, “I know him,”(1 Jn 2:4)
but do not keep his commandments are liars,
and the truth is not in them.
Yet the Presbyter knows that following Jesus is more than simply obeying a set of rules no matter how noble and true. The risen life, what the Evangelist calls “eternal life” is always a personal connection with Jesus which breaks down all barriers.
We are to “Keep His Word,” which includes obeying the commandments but must go beyond them. A disciple must make the love of God present in the world. This making real is perfecting the love of God. It is not that our love is flawless but that it is guiding us to practical love of neighbor. It is perfect because it reflects the intention of Jesus.
This is only possible by a relationship with Him.
This is the way we may know(1 Jn 2:5)
that we are in union with him
The Evangelist has told us that we are called to share God’s life to be in union with him. We “know” this—not really know about it—when we experience it.
St Augustine has a practical tip about this. We know that our love of God is perfect and that we are in union with him when we love our enemies.
What is perfection in love? To love one’s enemies, and to love them to the degree that they may be brothers. For our love must not be fleshly.… Love your enemies in such a way that you wish them to be brothers; love your enemies in such a way that they are brought into your fellowship.”(Homily on 1 John 1:9)
That is the union which matters to Jesus. That our community accept the widest possible number of people. We know that we are living the “risen life” however imperfectly when we build a diverse community of faith.
We certainly have many opportunities today with a nation that is splintering around us in so many ways. As we return to regular Parish life, let us seek the perfection that John teaches and Jesus desires: we will be perfect in God’s eyes by inviting into our community people who are imperfect in ours.