As I have written in the past, the Letters of John are “situational” Scripture; in other words, it is written to a specific group for a specific reason. In the case of the Letters of John, these Scriptures are written to a community of believers that is beginning to experience some fracturing. A group of separatists, now known as the gnostics, had begun to separate themselves from the Christian community. They were of the opinion that their “knowledge” of God made them “better than” or the “elite” of the Christian community. Rather than acknowledging that they had been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, they believed that they had been saved by their knowledge. They also believed that they were not obligated to obey the commandments. So John writes his first letter to refute these claims.
In the passage that we read today, John tells the believers not to love the world or the things of the world; rather they were to love God. The word “love” in English carries with it connotations that are not part of the Greek understanding of this word. The Greek meaning would equate love with loyalty. So we could read this passage by substituting that concept for the word “love.” “Do not remain loyal to the world or the things of the world. If anyone is loyal to the world, loyalty to the Father is not in him.” Remember that this group was separating themselves from the community. So the issue of loyalty is uppermost in John’s mind.
As I read this reading this morning, I could not help but think of how fractured we have become as a community of late. People seem to be spending so much time and energy on the differences that exist between people rather than accentuating the fact that we are all the same in the eyes of God. We are God’s children. We are sinners who have been saved by God’s love. We all members of the human family.
A Franciscan friar who has since gone to his eternal reward once told me something that I have never forgotten. He said, “God created hell for the people who could not live together here on earth.” That notion has stayed with me. At the time, I was working in the African-American community, and he was working in the Native American community. We had been talking about some of the difficulties we had been experiencing because of racial prejudice. However, like John’s situational reflections, my confrere’s statement speaks to the dissension we experience no matter what the reason.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator