Thought for the day
We are at the start of the new civil year and beginning again is an invitation to look in two directions. What happened for me in the last year, both in my ordinary life and in my life as a believer, a person of faith? For what do I ask forgiveness? For what do I give thanks? We also look forward and the new beginning gives us a chance to start again on the Way of discipleship. Both thanksgiving and renewal are to be found in today’s readings. The Gospel is in invitation to wake up, to keep watch, to live fully the present moment under God, in whom we live and move and have our being.
Wake us up, O God, at the start of a new year and rouse us from the slumber of the everyday that we may recognise you in every moment and in every person every day of our lives. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.
John 1:6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name —he has given the right to become God’s children 13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
John 1:14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.
The Prologue was already commented on for the third Mass of Christmas Day (see notes there). For today, a different translation (New American Bible Revised Edition) and a different commentary will be offered.
Kind of writing
This is a good example of Wisdom poetry with prose sections, breaking the flow. In all probability, it began as a Jewish Christian hymn to Wisdom.
Old Testament background
It would be a great help to look up these passages about “Lady Wisdom”: Job 28; Proverbs 1, 8, 9; Baruch 3:9-4:4; Sirach 24; Wis 7:7-9:18. On example is given here (from Baruch). The whole text is interesting; the key verses are 3:25-4:4.
Bar 3:9 Hear the commandments of life, O Israel; give ear, and learn wisdom!
10 Why is it, O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemies, that you are growing old in a foreign country, that you are defiled with the dead, 11 that you are counted among those in Hades? 12 You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom. 13 If you had walked in the way of God, you would be living in peace forever. 14 Learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding, so that you may at the same time discern where there is length of days, and life, where there is light for the eyes, and peace. 15 Who has found her place? And who has entered her storehouses? 16 Where are the rulers of the nations, and those who lorded it over the animals on earth; 17 those who made sport of the birds of the air, and who hoarded up silver and gold in which people trust, and there is no end to their getting; 18 those who schemed to get silver, and were anxious, but there is no trace of their works? 19 They have vanished and gone down to Hades, and others have arisen in their place.
20 Later generations have seen the light of day, and have lived upon the earth; but they have not learned the way to knowledge, nor understood her paths, nor laid hold of her. 21 Their descendants have strayed far from her way.
22 She has not been heard of in Canaan, or seen in Teman; 23 the descendants of Hagar, who seek for understanding on the earth, the merchants of Merran and Teman, the story-tellers and the seekers for understanding, have not learned the way to wisdom, or given thought to her paths.
24 O Israel, how great is the house of God, how vast the territory that he possesses! 25 It is great and has no bounds; it is high and immeasurable. 26 The giants were born there, who were famous of old, great in stature, expert in war. 27 God did not choose them, or give them the way to knowledge; 28 so they perished because they had no wisdom, they perished through their folly.
29 Who has gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds? 30 Who has gone over the sea, and found her, and will buy her for pure gold? 31 No one knows the way to her, or is concerned about the path to her. 32 But the one who knows all things knows her, he found her by his understanding. The one who prepared the earth for all time filled it with four-footed creatures; 33 the one who sends forth the light, and it goes; he called it, and it obeyed him, trembling; 34 the stars shone in their watches, and were glad; he called them, and they said, “Here we are!” They shone with gladness for him who made them.
35 This is our God; no other can be compared to him. 36 He found the whole way to knowledge, and gave her to his servant Jacob and to Israel, whom he loved. 37 Afterward she appeared on earth and lived with humankind.
Bar 4:1 She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever. All who hold her fast will live, and those who forsake her will die.
2 Turn, O Jacob, and take her; walk toward the shining of her light. 3 Do not give your glory to another, or your advantages to an alien people. 4 Happy are we, O Israel, for we know what is pleasing to God.
New Testament foreground
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. (1 John 1:1–4).
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:1–4)
But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God. (Gal 4:4–7)
The commentary takes the form of showing where the topics and images occur again throughout the Gospel. Thus, the function of the Prologue as a true introduction becomes clear.
Verse 1 New Creation: When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30) When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) Cf. Jn 20:1.
Verse 2 Union with the Father: The Father and I are one (John 10:30) So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. (John 17:5)
Verse 3 Through him: No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
Verse 4 Life and light: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25-26) And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
Verse 5 Light and darkness: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19) Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Verses 6-8 John the Baptist: Cf. John 1:19-23)
Verse 9 Into the world: When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14) She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27) Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
Verse 10 Did not receive him: This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:17)
Verse 11 Opposition of his own: The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. (John 5:15-17) The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ (John 8:52) The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” (John 10:33) The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” (John 19:7)
Verse 12 Children of God: He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. (John 11:51-52) While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:36) Cf. John 21:5.
Verse 13 Born of God: Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8) Cf. John 15:4-5)
Verse 14 Glory, grace, truth: Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17) But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24) When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13) Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)
Dwell: note the Jewish festival of Booths (= skēnopēgia, matching eskēnosen “dwelt” in v.14) was near. (John 7:2)
Verse 15 He existed before me: This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ (John 1:30) Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptising, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:25-30). Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
Verse 16 Fullness: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11) But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. (John 17:13)
Verse 17 Moses: Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:45-46) Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. (John 6:32) Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? (John 7:22-23) Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” (John 9:28-29)
Verse 18 Make known: Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. (John 6:46) I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:15) “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 15:15; 17:6) I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
Pointers for prayer
1. John opens his Gospel with a profound reflection on the meaning of creation, of life and of Jesus. Remember when you had a special awareness of the gift of life that filled you with gratitude to God for creation and the beauty and wonder of the world: ‘All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.’
2. We hear the gospel message frequently. Sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other. Then there are occasions when it made us feel more alive, times when it helped us see the way ahead, like a light that shines in the darkness. Recall when the gospel gave you hope in the midst of anxiety or sadness and helped you to see what action would be most life giving for you and for others
3. Bring to mind people who have had a prophetic voice in the world - speaking the truth for the world to hear, like as a witness to testify to the light. Some of these may have been public figures. Others were ordinary people who have helped you see the 'light' by the witness of their own lives and words.
4. “No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son of God, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Jesus came to us to teach us about God and put a human face on God for us. For the people of his day, and for us, that was a mission of getting us to think again about how we see God and to believe in a God who is a God of love. Recall how the life and ministry of Jesus have changed your picture of God.
God most high, your only Son embraced the weakness of our flesh to give us the power to become your children; your eternal Word chose to dwell among us, that we might live in your presence.
Grant us a spirit of wisdom to know how rich is the glory you have made our own, and how great the hope to which we are called in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the splendour of eternal light God for ever and ever.