The website “Dictionary.com” gives no fewer than twenty-four definitions for the word “dark.” Entry number twenty-three lists the idiomatic expression “in the dark,” defining it as “in ignorance,” and “uninformed.” The Letters of St. John were originally written in Greek, but one has to wonder if our use of this idiomatic expression didn’t find its origins in his first letter.
Today we hear, “Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11)
The Letters of St. John are called “situational” Scriptures. In other words, these letters were written for to a specific group of people in a specific situation. To understand what St. John is saying, it is important to understand the circumstances that occasioned the letter. Toward the end of the first century and the beginning of the second, a group of Christians began to believe that they had been saved by virtue of their knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for “knowledge” is “gnosis.” So these Christians were called “gnostics.”
The Gospels attest to the fact that we were saved by Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Nothing we did or will do enters into the fact of our salvation. We have been saved by Jesus – period – end of discussion. Yet these Christians believed and stated that because of their knowledge of Jesus, they were incapable of committing a sin and that, therefore, they did not need to be saved. They went a step further and also said that it was not necessary for them to obey the commandments, especially the commandment to “love one another,” because as saved persons, the commandments no longer had any importance in their lives.
As he addresses this heresy, St. John tells us that these men and women were living in the dark. Throughout this letter we will hear references to “knowledge” and “darkness.” We will also hear St. John admonish us to live according to the commandments and remind us that we were saved through our faith in Jesus. As we listen and pray with these texts, the darkness that is part of every one of us will be pierced by the Light of God’s Word made flesh. I think of his writings every time I hear someone say that this or that commandment does not apply to them because they are living according to their own conscience. A conscience formed by the truth will lead us back to the commandments rather than away from them. As St. John says: “Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him. . .” (1 John 2:4-5)
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator