As we near the end of our reading of the first letter of St. John, his condemnation of the heresy of Gnosticism is coming to a climax. This group of separatists or elitists has been preaching that they did not need to keep the commandments nor did they need to be redeemed by Jesus because of their knowledge of God. St. John has demonstrated that their sin is the lie they are promulgating. This like all other sins does not doom them, for God is able to forgive sin when we repent. He has also demonstrated that keeping the commandments, especially the commandment to love our brothers and sisters as ourselves, is the way in which we can abide or remain in Jesus. However, he has also stated that love or “agape” means fidelity. That fidelity is best demonstrated by maintaining our ties with the community. Separating ourselves from others as these people have done means that they have not kept the commandment to love, that they have separated themselves from Jesus and now are living a lie which has plunged them into darkness. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21b)
As we begin to read the final chapter of this letter, St. John recapitulates his thoughts: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the father loves [also] the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. . .” (1 John 5:1-3)
So those who place their faith in Jesus but who deny that they are bound by the commandment to love one another – or to remain in the community – are not, in fact, believers at all. By separating themselves from their brothers and sisters because they believe that they are better than simply negates their faith in Jesus.
St. John Chrysostom said that one who could not see the face of Christ in the face of a beggar would never find Christ in the chalice. In other words, our faith is not a matter of “me and Jesus.” Faith in Jesus means believing in the community, believing in the commandment to love one another, and believing that Jesus died for our sins so that we could find our way to God together, not separately. The “rugged individualistic” approach to faith simply does not work. As we read way back in the Book of Genesis, we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator