In Christ and Divine Mercy, image of Divine Mercy apparition to Sr. Faustina Kowalska, Stained Glass Inc. (CC license)
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Divine Mercy Sunday
1 John 5:1-6
April 11, 2021
From now until the Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 16) our first readings will be from the Acts of the Apostles, our second readings from the first letter of St. John and (with one exception) our gospels from St. John. We will take this opportunity to look at the 1st Letter of John with special care. It will bring the entire message of the community which formed around the Beloved Disciple into greater clarity. We must begin by noting that this is the work of a community over time. The Gospel and Letters of John were composed as the community developed and they mark the signs of this growth. Scholars have detected four stages:
(1) The “Beloved Disciple” (usually referred to as John) – This Gospel many times remarks on the close relationship between Jesus and the beloved disciple and that he may have lived longer than the other disciples. He was an eyewitness to the events that the Gospel relates. This Gospel shows greater familiarity with Jewish customs and rituals and the geography of the Holy Land than the others. That the Gospel of John and other writings can be traced to an eyewitness is more than plausible as is its connection to a charismatic figure as we can assume the beloved disciple was.
(2) The “Evangelist” (the original writer) – As we shall see the community of the beloved disciple took a generation to form. The evangelist was a most gifted writer and thinker who took the memories of the beloved disciple and dramatized them as beautiful stories with clear explanations. He however recognized his debt to the beloved disciple as the great eyewitness: John 19:35 and John 21:24. We should see him as the author of the first edition of the Gospel.
(3) The “Presbyter” (the elder who wrote the epistles) – Like all writers, the evangelist brought his own presuppositions to his work. The beloved disciple was a Jew and would have taught as one. He and his original audience held many presumptions in common. As the community grew in both numbers and locations and attracted many Gentiles, this would no longer have been the case and misunderstandings arose. The beloved disciple understood fully that Jesus was human with a human body which suffered and died for us. He also would have recognized that when we join ourselves to Jesus we do so as bodily creatures who are called to live a moral life. The presbyter instructed the members of the community of St. John that they had sometimes deviated from the true path and clearly showed them the way to live. Typically, this was when they forget that Jesus was a Jew. His warnings were usually not taken well.
(4) The “Redactor” (final editor) – The community reflected on the insights of the Presbyter and what has been called his “school” and so revised the Gospel to acknowledge these clarifications and developments. This was done with great sensitivity. Sections were not, usually, rearranged to make them clearer, but material was added at the end of stories and discourses. We see that most decisively with the end of the Gospel. The original ending was John 20:30-31, which we will read at Mass this week, but the redactor added chapter 21. The best way to show respect to a tradition is to deepen and broaden it.
The Gospel of John can sometimes seem so serene that we can read over it too easily. The letters give us an understanding of the living, breathing community that was underneath it at a critical place. Indeed, some of the questions which we will examine will give us a better sense of what is underneath ours at an equally crucial time and place.
This is true of today’s reading. The presbyter is concerned that some within his community believed that, as forgiveness comes from God, once we are forgiven we are totally and forever freed from sin. We cannot ever be separated from Jesus. This is not true. The early leadership of the community who had the ethical imperative of Judaism as part of their spiritual DNA would have insisted that one can only show faithfulness to God and his covenant by seeking to lead a morally upright life. Thus:
In this way we know that we love the children of God(1 Jn 5:2–3)
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments
These commandments are not “burdensome” because they are not rules imposed on us, but reflect the new life we have received from Jesus thought his victory on the cross.
For whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.(1 Jn 5:4-5)
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith
Who (indeed) is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
We participate in this victory by our belief in Jesus but not as a purely intellectual assent, but by a commitment to being part of his people only through Baptism and by our participation in his death and resurrection through the Eucharist.
This is the one who came through water and blood,(1 Jn 5:6)
Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.
We will see throughout this letter that some in John’s community did not believe that Jesus was truly human, had a body and really died. John, again remembering that Jesus was a Jew living among Jews could not comprehend salvation without a physical sacrifice. Simply the convent, the relationship with God, could not be established without one. No death, no real risen body and thus no real reason to be a Christian.
This has the ultimate guarantee of truth, the Spirit:
The Spirit is the one that testifies,(1 Jn 5:6)
and the Spirit is truth.
The spirit was present at the Baptism of Jesus – the water – but also, he testifies to the truth of the real sacrifice of Jesus – blood and thus may be found in the Eucharist.
John is assuring his readers that they joined Jesus at Baptism, but his presence continued in the Eucharist. This is in effect a commentary on chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.
Through our participation in the Church, we share in the Victory of Jesus over the world, but we also show it by our commitment to building up the world.