In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many who received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before Me.'" And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
- John 1:1-18
As a good preparation for Lent, the lectionary has just taken us through a great deal of the Sermon on the Mount (see the readings from February 20 to February 25). In Saturday's reading (February 25) Jesus taught: "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do you not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward."
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. From the very personal message about prayer in Saturday's reading from the Sermon on the Mount, the lectionary takes us to the Prologue of John's Gospel. Here we learn exactly who Jesus is. To do that properly, the Gospel begins with in the beginning, bringing us to the creation story in Genesis. But here, the Gospel speaks of the Creator Himself. And while Genesis speaks of the first creation, John's Prologue (today's entire reading, verses 1-18) reveals the new creation in Christ. In Greek, Word is "Logos." The Word, through which all things were spoken into existence, is the eternal Son of God. My study bible points out to us that was indicates existence without reference to a starting point. It emphasizes the Word's eternal existence without beginning. Logos has overlapping meanings in Greek. It can mean "wisdom," "reason," and "action" as well as word. Each of these are attributes of the Son of God. That the Word was with God tells us about the Persons of the Trinity; while the Son is a distinct Person from the Father He is also in eternal communion with the Father. That the Word was God teaches us of the co-equal and co-eternal nature of God the Son and God the Father; the Son is of the same divinity as the Father. This was in the beginning; from a time before there was time; there wasn't a "time" when the Son was not with the Father.
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. The Word is co-Creator with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6, 9; Hebrews 1:2) and not just an instrument or servant used by the Father. My study bible says that will, operation, and power are one in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The heavens and earth are the works of the One who made them, while the Son was not made but is eternally begotten of the Father, as we say in the Creed.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. My study bible says that only God has life in Himself. Therefore, the Word, being God, is the source of life, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In saying that the life was the light of men, John introduces human beings or mankind as receiver of the divine light. By participating in the life of the Son, says my study bible, believers become children of the light (12:36; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Moses saw the divine light in the burning bush (Exodus 3:2); the whole nation of Israel saw it at the Red Sea (Exodus 13:21); Isaiah saw it in his heavenly vision (Isaiah 6:1-5); and three apostles saw it at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5).
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. Darkness has to be understood as a theological term, of particular importance to the earliest Church. It indicates both spiritual ignorance and satanic opposition to the light. Those who hate truth prefer ignorance for themselves and strive to keep others ignorant as well, says my study bible (see 3:19). Like the word in English, the Greek word translated as comprehend means both to "understand" and to "overcome" (or to "take in"). Therefore, darkness can never overpower the light of Christ, nor can it understand the way of love.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. The man sent from God, whose name was John refers to John the Baptist (not the author of this Gospel). My study bible tells us that Christ offers light to every person, but the world and even many of His own refuse to receive Him; thus, they can neither know nor recognize Him.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many who received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The right to become children of God: Here, right means "authority." It indicates a gift from God, not an inalienable right. Those who receive Christ become children of God by adoption (Galatians 4:4-7) and by grace they inherit everything that Christ is by nature. My study bible says that to believe in His name is to believe in Him who in His humanity took the name Jesus as Word, Son, Messiah, and Savior. To be adopted as a child of God is no matter of ethnic descent (of blood) as in the Old Testament, nor are we children of God by natural birth (the will of the flesh), nor by a human being's own decision (the will of man). To become a child of God is a spiritual birth by grace, says my study bible; that is, through faith and in the Holy Spirit. It is accomplished and manifested in the sacrament of Holy Baptism (3:5-8; see Titus 3:4-7).
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before Me.'" That the Word became flesh clarifies the manner in which the Son and Word of God came to His people, and points specifically to the Incarnation. Christ the Word became fully human without ceasing to be fully God. As Jesus He assumed complete human nature, says my study bible: body, soul, will, emotion, and even mortality. That is everything that pertains to humanity except sin. Christ is God and man in one Person; as such, He pours divinity into all of human nature. Anything not assumed by Christ would not have been healed. When the text says that He dwelt among us, this is translated from specific words once again alluding to God's work among His people in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God's presence dwelt in the ark of the covenant and later on in the temple. This word used for dwelt in the Greek means literally "tented" or "tabernacled." Here the eternal Word comes to dwell in and among humanity itself. (We are reminded of St. Paul's words that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit - 1 Corinthians 6:19.) His glory refers both to His divine power shown by the signs in the Gospel and also wonders (2:11; 11:4, 40), and to His service in humility to mankind, perfected on the Cross (12:23-32; 13:31). In all these ways, He reveals that He is the One sent from the Father. That He is the only begotten of the Father states that He has no beginning, but has the Father as His source from eternity. Only begotten tells us that there is no other born from the Father (the Holy Spirit also exists eternally but through another mystery named "procession;" see 15:26). My study bible says that the phrase full of grace and truth qualifies both the Word and His glory. Grace is the uncreated energy of Christ that is given to us through His love and mercy. Truth includes His faithfulness to His promises and covenants and to the reality of His words and gifts.
And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. My study bible tells us that in saying we have all received of His fullness, the Scriptures confirm that God's grace can fill human nature to the extent of deifying it. This is holiness shared with human beings, what it truly means to be adopted in spirit. We become God's children by grace (10:34-35) without ceasing to be human beings. An ancient example in the Church likens it to a metal object thrust into fire. It takes on the properties of fire (such as heat and light) without ceasing to be metal. In this sense human nature is permeated by God and takes on properties of the divine nature. (These qualities are linked to the blessings of the Kingdom Jesus proclaims in the Beatitudes.) Grace for grace is a Semitic expression which signifies an overabundance of grace.
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. No one can see the nature, or essence, of God, for to see God is to die (Exodus 33:20), my study bible reminds us. So only One who is Himself divine can see God; the Son is therefore only One who can declare Him. This revelation of God's energies can be received by the faithful. Moses saw the "back" of God (Exodus 33:21-23); Isaiah saw His glory (see Isaiah 6:1; John 12:41).
God comes and dwells among us. But this isn't just "God," it is Logos, the Word, the Son of God. The intimacy of the relationship that the Son has with the Father will be shared with us. We will be eligible for such intimacy by adoption, through grace. We can't know God as God knows God, "face to face," as the Scriptures put it. But we can know God in a different way, as children to a Father. It is the Incarnation of Christ that makes this all possible for us. It is this great, extraordinary, superlative gift that Christ brings us, and John's Gospel introduces to us. This is a work of love. John is the evangelist of love. It is in one of His letters that we are told that God is love (1 John 4:7-8). Therefore John begins from the true beginning, before time, to tell us just Who has come to us as human being, and what He is here to give us, what He shared with His disciples, of which they have all received, and grace for grace. John the Evangelist ties in Old Testament and New when he tells us that there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This is John the Baptist, the last in the line and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, of whom several of Christ's first disciples (including the Evangelist himself) were first disciples and sent to Christ. Everything comes together here. But what we truly need to remember is that so great and mighty a God loves us with the intimacy of our Father -- Who, as we read in the Sermon on the Mount (in Saturday's reading) Jesus teaches is in the secret place and who sees in secret. Christ comes to bring the heights of unthinkable divinity to us as individuals, to our hearts, to the secret place where we meet God in prayer. This is the whole of the Incarnation, revealed in love and given to us as a gift that surpasses all possible gifts and will never stop giving to us. Let us pay attention.