December 31, 2014
Seventh day in the Octave of Christmas
Gospel Jn 1:1-18
“In the beginning was the Word …”
The gospel text on Christmas Day and the last day of the calendar year is the beginning of John’s gospel. The word “gospel” comes from the Greek “evangelion,” which literally means “good news.” The gospels are not historical biographies about Jesus but about the faith-experience of the authors. Something good and inspiring happened to the authors. Their lives were changed forever and they wanted to pass on this good news to their readers.
We have been reading and praying over the wondrous events leading to the birth of Jesus during the Christmas season. We pause and meditate on the theological meaning of all these accounts. Our religious faith is based on an interpretation or meaning we give to events. John’s gospel is the most theological of the four gospels. We can see the influence of abstract Greek philosophy and theology in the writings of the early Church. The language of religion tends to be formal, official, theological and a bit abstract. We usually use the language of religion when talking about God. We don’t use the language of everyday life. We can see this difference when we compare the words of the evangelist John and the words of Jesus himself in the gospels. The language of Jesus is the language of everyday life, the language of experience and reality.
In one of his parables, Jesus taught us to separate the grain from the chaff. This is what we need to do when reading scripture and theology. We must discern or sort out what is essential and non-essential, what is form and what is substance. Otherwise, we get lost in the jargon and abstractions of a disembodied faith. Look at all the impressive words of theology and liturgy we are familiar with. What is John writing about? He is expounding on the “Mystery of the Incarnation,” to use theological terminology. He is writing about the word of God made flesh. The spirit of God, the word of God, the plan or intention of God is an abstract or non-material one. Our experience of God becomes real when this is enfleshed or incarnated in our daily lives. God’s goodness is real when we are humble, just and compassionate with one another. We learn this from the story of Jesus. Until the coming of Jesus, the Old Testament ideas of God were expressed in religious rules and regulations, in the practice of the Sabbath. Jesus taught us that the Law of Moses and the prophets is summarized in the greatest of all the commandments – to love God and neighbor. God’s spirit is not found on tablets of stone but inscribed in our hearts. The law of God is not found in external precepts but is spiritually internalized and expressed in deeds of loving and humble service to others.
This is why our experience of God through Jesus is called a New Testament or New Covenant. A covenant is a sacred contract or special relationship with God. This is expressed not only in acts of liturgical worship. This is what Jesus tried to teach us. For this he was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death on the cross. We want to reflect on the “newness” or “oldness” of our Christian faith. Each New Year brings many new things and many new experiences. What about our experience of God and faith? Anything new, anything inspiring or transforming? What did Jesus say about new wine and new wineskins? Do we listen? The story of Jesus and the New Covenant is a story of letting go the old, frozen and insipid ways. There are many things to let go, in order to allow God to come into our lives. This is the true meaning of conversion and repentance that we always recite during Mass. Look at how Pope Francis is inspiring so many in the world, because of his humble and non-judgmental ways. Look at how he is reminding all of us who Jesus really is, and how God’s word takes flesh in us.
Salvador C. Wee, SJ