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. 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. 1 John 1-2:2.
Already within a generation or two of Jesus’ life, questions arose within the Christian community about the reality of the experience of Jesus. Some had begun to question His humanity, others questioned His divinity, and many questioned exactly what this all meant. In today’s reading from the Lectionary, St. John wrote to address those concerns, writing in the shadow of the Cross.
First, he assured his audience that Jesus was a very real human person. He writes about the Jesus that was seen “and touched with our hands.” John’s letter offers a deeply incarnational theology. For this reason, this passage complements the reading from John’s Gospel, which I’ve previously written about (here). St. John describes Jesus as the “word of life”, and we hear the echoes of the opening of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.”
John writes to assure that community, and us, that the resurrection involved a very tangible, physical reality. John and the apostles shared in that divine life. In that remarkable moment, the spiritual world and the physical world collided. St. John tells us that this union, that fellowship, remains available to us all.
He addresses a couple of false claims that circulated throughout the Christian community at the time. The first of these was the contention that sin was unimportant. To this first claim, St. John responded that we cannot claim our share in God’s fellowship if we walk in sin. Life with Christ, walking with Christ, will require that we walk in the light, and turn away from the darkness.
Secondly, John addresses the notion that of how our relationship with Christ (our fellowship) will change our lives. Christianity does not inoculate us from sin. Rather, “walking in the light” will expose our failures and open a path toward the grace of forgiveness. Thus, St. John notes that we’re fooling ourselves if we deny our sin. “If we confess our sins,” however, “he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
A number of scriptural passages refer to Jesus’ role as the judge of the world. John offers a more comforting view of Christ: that of an advocate. Advocate may have had legal connotations, suggesting Jesus arguing for us as an attorney might do. I’m inclined, however, to think of Jesus more as a friend who’s been down this road and has my back.
1 John, perhaps more than any other epistle in the Bible, is a love letter. St. John wrote, “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.” 1 John 4:7-9.
The Easter message echoes throughout St. John’s letter. He offers us a vision of Jesus welcoming us home, always ready to forgive, always ready to make a place for us. We need only ask for it, and God’s mercy will fall down around us like a mighty river.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis