Seeing and Doing
Readings: 1 John 2:29—3:6; Psalm 98:1, 3cd-4, 5-6; John 1:29-34
We continue to deepen our meditation on what Christ’s coming in the flesh means for us. As you will recall, yesterday we saw a distinction between two groups of people: those who acknowledge and those who deny that Christ has indeed come in the flesh. Today, our readings invite us to consider yet another, perhaps more subtle, distinction between two approaches to the spiritual life.
Upon listening to what the readings have to say, the first approach will quite quickly emphasize what we must do. We must, according to the first reading, be righteous. We must purify ourselves. Also, we must imitate John the Baptist in the gospel and bear witness to Christ. Quite clearly, this first approach places the emphasis on our own deeds and efforts. We must… we must… we must. Not only that, it also often demonstrates a need for absolute certainty beforehand about what we must do at any given time. Yet we may wonder where, in this approach, is there room for the joy that the psalmist sings about in the responsorial psalm.
If we consider our readings again carefully, however, we will perhaps notice that the accent is not so much on what we must do, important as that is. Rather, the doing comes as a result of something else. Notice, for example, what John the Baptist says at the end of the gospel passage for today: I have seen and I am the witness… Important as the witnessing is, it is only the result of first having seen. And isn't it the same in the first reading? Although the writer exhorts his readers to be righteous and to purify themselves, it is only because of what has been revealed to them about who they are in relation to God. The righteous are righteous and feel the need to purify themselves because they have been begotten by God, because they realize that they are already the children of God. And in this realization they find the motivation to be righteous and pure. In contrast to the first approach, we notice here an emphasis not on our own efforts but on what God reveals to us in the Spirit and the power that that revelation brings.
And because this is so, there isn’t the same need for absolute certainty beforehand. It is striking, for example, how John the Baptist, who has already been preparing the way for the Lord in the wilderness for some time, actually says twice about Christ that I did not know him myself. He finds himself in between knowing and not knowing. Doesn’t the first reading say the same when it says that we know we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed? And isn’t it the same with us. At any given point in time there will be things we know and things we don’t, but we are called to live in this in-between space with a certainty based on hope that the God who loves us enough to be born as one of us will not disappoint, that God will reveal what we need to know in good time. And it is in this hope that we find the joy that the Christ-child brings at Christmas, the same joy that causes us to sing a new song to the Lord.
How are we being called to live out what we have seen this Christmas?