Love and Faith

While there is continuity in all the daily Mass readings (for the most part), it is easier for us to recall the continuing narrative of the Gospel exactly because it is a narrative. Today’s first reading continues the readings from the two previous day’s Mass from the First Letter of St. John. I think it is natural and proper to give priority to the Gospels, the epistles are also the Word of God and God speaks to us through them.

The first readings from daily Mass this week cover an essential part of the First Letter of John. The two previous days of readings from 1 John 4 emphasized the nature and necessity of love as the nature of God and the nature of redemption and salvation. This treatise on love (4:7–21) flows into 1 John 5, today’s reading, that connects the nature and necessity of love to that of faith, in what is essentially a creedal statement.

5 Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth.  7 So there are three that testify, 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord. 9 If we accept human testimony, the testimony of God is surely greater. Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony within himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:5–13)

The creedal statement proposed here is that Jesus is the Son of God (vv. 5, 10, 12) — but a Son of God who is also thoroughly human, both at the baptism (at which the Spirit testified in John 1:33–34) that initiated the ministry and in the bloody death that was it’s earthly end.

Verse 6 insists that Jesus was Son of God, yes — but a Son of God whose humanity was essential. It speaks to the historical events of Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion as events in human history. But in verses 7–8 a shift is made to the present, to the witnesses of the “now.” To the Spirit as witness of the life of Christ are added both the current witness of water and blood. The historical incidents of verse 6 as witnesses now shift to the ongoing witness of the Sacraments. The Spirit still testifies to Jesus, as do the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.

The community’s knowledge of the historical Christ is rooted in human testimony – a good thing to be sure. But John argues that the “testimony of God is surely greater” and points to the ongoing testimony of the Spirit and the Sacraments. All three give their testimony in the Christian assembly: the Spirit through those speakers who are his inspired voice; Baptism and Eucharist as signs of the eternal life that God gives us in his Son (vv. 11–12), as occasions during which faith in Jesus is solemnly affirmed and strengthened.

In what looks very much like a conclusion (v.13) we are reminded that the desire of God is to have eternal life. The verse bears striking resemblance to the Fourth Gospel (John 20:31): “But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

There is a lot to be garnered from these first readings.

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