Tag Archives: docetism

The Word Made Visible

 

 

John evangelist

 

The Feast of St.John the Apostle (December 27) follows the birth of Jesus because the writings attributed to John– the 4th gospel and letters– treat the great question: Who is Jesus, the child born of Mary, who lived in Nazareth, preached in Galilee and Judea, died and rose again in Jerusalem?

John was one of the first disciples called by Jesus at the Sea of Galilee to bear witness to him; John sat beside him at the Last Supper; he went into the Garden of Gethsemane with him, then stood beside his cross. 

As the gospel reading for his feast reminds us, John saw the empty tomb and recognized Jesus risen from the dead. “‘It is the Lord,’ the other disciples whom Jesus loved said to Peter” on the Lake of Galilee as the Risen Christ appears. (John 21, 7) John has a special role identifying Jesus as human and divine. 

Tradition says John was the last of the apostles to die, and so writings identified with him proclaiming belief in both the divinity and humanity of Jesus had special authority in the early church. 

The gospel of John is assigned as the final gospel for Christmas day: “In the beginning was the Word.” The letters of John read at Mass most of the days after Christmas until the Feast of the Baptism continue to proclaim a theme of the gospel of John, that the Word became flesh, and  uphold the humanity of Jesus against those who deny the possibility that God would take human form. 

We know Jesus Christ through his humanity, just as the apostles did, the Ist Letter of John says. The One we know through his humanity is also the Word of God who is God.

“What was from the beginning,

what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,

what we looked upon

and touched with our hands

concerns the Word of life —

for the life was made visible;

we have seen it and testify to it

and proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father and was made visible to us—

what we have seen and heard

we proclaim now to you.” 1 John 1-4

Image of the Invisible God

There’s always a temptation to make God distant and abstract. After all, God dwells “in light inaccessible,” the scriptures say. God is beyond the eyes of our mind and body.

But God reveals himself in Jesus Christ, the “image of the invisible God.” The first followers of Jesus saw him with their own eyes and proclaimed that “the grace and kindness of our God has appeared” in him.

We’re reading from the 1st Letter of John, which was written as that first generation of  eyewitnesses to the gospel was passing on. The letter’s message to a new generation (and certainly to us too) is simple: believe in Jesus Christ. As eyewitnesses pass on and years go by, we’re tempted to forget or minimize his place in our world and in our lives.

John’s letter warns about the dangers of docetism and gnosticism, two heresies supporting that temptation. A note in the New American Bible describes what these strange sounding heresies are all about:

“The specific heresy described in this letter cannot be identified exactly, but it is a form of docetism or gnosticism; the former doctrine denied the humanity of Christ to insure that his divinity was untainted, and the latter viewed the appearance of Christ as a mere stepping-stone to higher knowledge of God.”

He came “through water and Blood,” John writes. He urges us not to forget the humanity of Jesus Christ, the humble way he became flesh and shared our experience as human beings. God comes to us that way too. He was baptized in the waters of the Jordan uniting all nations in journeying to God’s Kingdom. He died and shed his blood for us. Don’t forget the mystery of his death and resurrection.

“God gave us eternal life,

and this life is in his Son.”