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A different picture of Jesus
The words of a Canticle of the Community
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) Key to the reading - the literary context:
This Sunday we meditate on the solemn Prologue of the Gospel of John. The Prologue is the entrance door. It is the first thing that is written. It is like a final summary, placed at the beginning. Under the form of a profound poem, mysterious and very solemn, John offers a summary of all that he will say about Jesus in twenty one chapters of his Gospel. Probably, this poem was from a canticle of the community, used and adapted by John. The canticle communicated an experience that the communities had of Jesus, the Word of God. Today also, we have many hymns and poems which try to translate and communicate who Jesus is for us. They reveal the experience that our communities have of Jesus. A poem is like a spectacle. It helps to discover the things which are inside us. Every time that we listen to or repeat attentively a poem, we discover new things, in the poem itself, as well as within us.
During the reading of the Prologue of the Gospel of John it is well to activate our own memory and try to remember some canticle or poem on Jesus, of the time of our childhood, which has marked our life.
b) A division of the text to help the reading:
1,1-5: The Word of God is light for all human beings
1,6-8: John the Baptist was not the Light
1,9-11: His own did not recognize him
1,12-13: Those who receive him become children of God
1,14: The Word became flesh
1,15-17: Moses give the Law, Jesus gives Grace and Truth
1,18: It is like the rain that washes.
c) The text:
1 In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. 4 What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; 5 and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it. 6 A man came, sent by God. His name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light. 9 The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name 13 who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself. 14 The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John witnesses to him. He proclaims: 'This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.' 16 Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received -- one gift replacing another, 17 for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
i) Which phrase of the Prologue struck you the most? Why?
ii) Which are the images used by John in this poem to say who Jesus was for the community?
iii) Which is the new thing that the poem of John makes me discover in myself?
iv) The poem of John says. “He came to his own and his own people did not accept him!” (Jn 1, 11). What does this sentence mean? How does this happen today?
v) Which are the facts or events or persons of the Old Testament which are recalled in the Prologue?
5. For those who wish to deepen more into the text
a) The context:
On the Prologue of the Gospel of John many books have been written. And every year new ones are published. But they do not exhaust the content of the theme. This because the Prologue is like a source. The more water is drawn out from the source, the more it will give. Anyone who places his head above the source or fountain and looks inside, he sees his face mirrored in the water of the source. Describing the face that is seen, two things are described: the water of the source is commented upon, the prologue, and it tells us what has been discovered within the person himself.
The Prologue helps one to understand why the Fourth Gospel is so diverse from the other Gospels. In the Prologue, John presents the vision that he has of Jesus, Word of God, and describes the route of the Word. The Word was with God from the beginning of creation and by it everything was created. Everything which exists is an expression of the Word of God. Even being present in everything, the Word has wanted to place himself even closer to us and because of this he became flesh in Jesus, and lived among us, he carried out his mission and has returned to the Father. Jesus is the living Word of God. In everything that he says and does he reveals the Father: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (Jn 14,9). He and the Father “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10, 30).
b) Commentary on the text:
John 1, 1-5: The Word of God is light for every human being.
In saying: “In the beginning was the Word”, John makes us think in the first sentence of the Bible which says: “In the beginning God created Heaven and earth” (Gn 1, 1). God created by his Word. “The moment he spoke, it was so, no sooner had he commanded, than there it stood” (Ps 33, 9; Ps 148, 5). All creatures are an expression of the Word of God. Here, from the beginning, we have the first sign of ecumenical and ecological openness of the Fourth Gospel.
The Prologue says that the universal presence of God’s Word is life and light for every human being. But the majority of persons do not perceive the Good News of the luminous presence of the Word of God in their lives. The living Word of God, present in all things, shines in the darkness, but the darkness could not overpower it.
John 1, 6-8: John the Baptist was not the Light.
John the Baptist comes to help people to discover this luminous and consoling presence of the Word of God in life. The witness of John the Baptist was so important, that up to the end of the first century, at the time that the Fourth Gospel was written, there were still persons who believed that he, John, was the Messiah! (Ac 19,3; Jo 1,20).
For this reason, the Prologue clarifies things saying: “John was not the light! He came to bear witness to the light!”
John 1, 9-11: His own did not accept him.
Just as God’s Word manifests itself in nature, in creation, in the same way also, it manifests itself in the “world”, that is in the history of humanity, and particularly, in the history of the people of God. When he speaks about world, John wants to indicate a system, that of the empire as well as of the religion of the time, systems closed up in themselves and therefore, incapable to know and to receive the luminous presence of the Word of God. The “world” did not recognize, did not accept the Word. From the time of Abraham and of Moses, the Word “came for his own, but his own did not recognize him”.
John 1,12-13: Those who accept to become children of God.
But the persons who opened themselves accepting the Word, became children of God. The person becomes a son or daughter of God not by own merit, but by the simple fact of trusting and of believing that God, in his goodness, accepts us and welcomes us. The Word enters into the person and makes her/him feel accepted by God as daughter, as son. This is the power of God’s grace.
John 1, 14: The Word became flesh.
God does not want to be far away from us. For this reason his Word gets close to us and becomes present in our midst in the person of Jesus. The Prologue literally says: “The Word became flesh and placed his tent in the midst of his people. Now the tent where God dwells with us is Jesus “full of grace and truth!” Jesus comes to reveal who is this God who is present in everything, from the beginning of creation.
John 1, 15-17: Moses gave the Law, Jesus came to bring us Grace and Truth.
These verses render the witness of John the Baptist. John began his proclamation before Jesus, but Jesus existed before him. Jesus is the Word which was already with God even before creation. Moses, in giving us the Law, manifested God’s will. Jesus gives us the fullness of grace and of truth which help us to understand and to observe the Law.
John 1, 18: It is like the rain which washes.
This last verse summarizes everything. It recalls the prophecy of Isaiah, according to which the Word of God is like rain which comes from heaven and does not return without having carried out its mission on earth (Is 55, 10-11). The way of the Word of God is like that. It comes from God and descends among us in the Person of Jesus. Through the obedience of Jesus he carried out his mission here on earth. At the hour of his death, Jesus gives up his Spirit and returns to the Father (Jn 19, 30).
He fulfilled the mission which he had received.
c) Deepening - The roots or origin of the Prologue of the Gospel of John:
The roots of Divine Wisdom - The Gospel of John is a poetical and symbolical text. It is difficult to say from where the author took such beautiful ideas and images to construct this poem. But something is certain, he had the concern to show that the prophecies of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Jesus. That is why, speaking about Jesus, he recalls central points of the Old Testament. In the Prologue, we find much similarity with the poems of the Old Testament which present Divine Wisdom under the form of a person (Pr 9, 1-6), which already existed before all things. She participated in the creation of the world as an artist and craftsman of the universe, playing on the surface of the earth and delighting with humanity (Pr 8, 22-31). Desirous to have friendly relations, she invites persons to taste the sweetness of her honey and of her fruits (Si 22, 18-20). On the streets, the public squares and the cross roads she proclaims her word and asks that her advice be followed (Pr 1, 18-20). Wisdom is light and life: “Although she is alone, she can do everything; herself unchanging, she renews the world. She is indeed more splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations” (Ws 7, 26-29; cfr. I Jn 1, 5). Certainly, the communities of John knew these passages and John inspired himself in them to compose the poem which introduces his Gospel.
The Apocalyptic origin - There is another point of view which influenced the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel. In the Old Testament there was a popular belief, called Apocalyptic, according to which, together with God in heaven there were two personages to help him to govern the world and to guide humanity: an accuser (John 1, 6) and a defender or redeemer (Jn 19, 25). The Accuser kept God informed about our evil deeds. The Defender or Advocate took up our defence before the Judge. The Accuser in Hebrew is Satan. The Defender is Goél. The first Christians said: Jesus is our Defender or Saviour before God (Lk 2, 11). To defend us he descended from Heaven and, being here on earth, he took upon himself our pains, sufferings and came to live as we do and became our servant. He took upon himself the accusations which the Accuser made against us and “destroyed them, by nailing them to the cross” (Col 2, 13-15). Thus, the Accuser (Satan) lost his function and was thrown out of Heaven (Ap 12, 7-9). Jesus comes to free us! Through his death and resurrection, he becomes our Defender (Goél. Risen, he went back to the Father opening the way for all of us. He is the way, the truth and the life which take us to the house of the Father. This is the summary of the Prologue and also the summary of all the Gospel of John.
6. Prayer: Psalm 19 (18)
“God’s Word is truth!”
The heavens declare the glory of God,
the vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork,
day discourses of it to day,
night to night hands on the knowledge.
No utterance at all, no speech,
not a sound to be heard,
but from the entire earth the design stands out,
this message reaches the whole world.
High above, he pitched a tent for the sun,
who comes forth from his pavilion like a bridegroom,
delights like a champion in the course to be run.
Rising on the one horizon he runs his circuit to the other,
and nothing can escape his heat.
The Law of Yahweh is perfect,
refreshment to the soul;
the decree of Yahweh is trustworthy,
wisdom for the simple.
The precepts of Yahweh are honest,
joy for the heart; the commandment of Yahweh is pure, light for the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is pure, lasting for ever;
the judgements of Yahweh are true, upright, every one,
more desirable than gold, even than the finest gold;
his words are sweeter than honey, that drips from the comb.
Thus your servant is formed by them;
observing them brings great reward.
But who can detect his own failings?
Wash away my hidden faults.
And from pride preserve your servant,
never let it be my master.
So shall I be above reproach, free from grave sin.
May the words of my mouth always find favour,
and the whispering of my heart, in your presence,
Yahweh, my rock, my redeemer.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.