During the Christmas Season, the first Scripture reading for our liturgy generally comes from St. John's first Letter. This letter, as well as its successors, highlights a difficulty that emerged in the early Christian community, a difficulty that in some ways still exists today. Some members of the early Christian community thought themselves "better than" the ordinary believer. They believed that their intellectual knowledge of the mysteries of God set them apart from the others and exempted them from the moral code that Jesus' preaching invoked.
St. John wrote to dispel this kind of thinking. Key to understanding his writing is the reader's connection or focus on the word "know" and the word "light." These elitists believed that their salvation came through the "knowledge" of Jesus Christ, a knowledge that was infused or a part of who they were as individuals. They believed that they were "enlightened." They contended that this special light or knowledge was the source of their salvation. In other words, they did not need to be redeemed. Sin was not a part of their lives because they were enlightened. Consequently, the redemptive death of Jesus, while necessary for the ordinary person, was not necessary for them.
St. John writes: My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins; and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his command-ments. Whoever says, "I know him," but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:1-4)
In this statement, St. John attacks the very foundation of their argument. Because these elitists believed they could not sin, they did not believe that the commandments applied to them. Perhaps even worse, they believed that because they could not sin, they did not believe that Jesus died for them. St. John goes on to say that rather than being "enlightened," these people were living in the dark. Because Jesus was the light of the world and because they did not accept the fact that Jesus had died for them, they were living in the darkness of sin.
Elitism of any kind is simply not an acceptable position for a Christian. We are all sinners. Sin destroys our relationship with God. The only way to restore that relationship is through faith in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator