|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter - on the Epistle|
|Acts 3:13-15, 17-19||1 John 2:1-5||Luke 24:35-48|
Sin is a very serious affair, for John. How seriously John takes sin can be seen in today's 2nd reading. Earlier in his Gospel, John had told us why he wrote. "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). In today's 2nd reading from 1st Letter of John, he again tells us why he wrote. "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1). If we take these two statements of purpose as two sides of the one coin, we can see that, for John, to believe in Christ means to stop being a sinner. As John sees it, being a child of God and being a sinner are a contradiction. This he states more forcefully in 1 John 3:
No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. ... 8 Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. ... 9 Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God's seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God (1 John 3:6, 8-9).
For John, this is as it should be. This is the ideal to which every believer should aspire. Yet John is realistic enough to admit that, in fact, most Christians do not measure up to this ideal. In reality many Christians still succumb to sin occasionally, if not habitually. Some modern-day preachers would consign such sinful believers right into the bottomless pit of hell fire. But not John. For John, there is hope even for the sinful believer. The same Christ who is the strength of the upright believer is also the remedy for the sinful believer. "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the expiation for our sins" (1 John 2:1-2)
John's open-mindedness and inclusiveness does not end with the incorporation of sinful believers. The sacrifice of Christ is universal in its effects. John, therefore, sees Christ as the expiation of the sins of all humankind, believers and non-believers alike. "He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (verse 2).
In this short passage, John appears to be challenging popular, narrow-minded Christianity of his time. In the English translation of the passage, we notice that the word "but" marks each point where John challenges the traditional view and introduces his own more inclusive viewpoint. Attention to the "but's" in this passage is a good way to highlight the inclusive teachings that John is giving here. There are three or four occurrences of "but" in this passage, depending on the translation one is using:
(1) "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (verse 1). Here John challenges the view that believers who sin are lost forever without any hope of reconciliation with God. This view, which came to be known as Donatism, was rejected by the universal church, which maintained John's view that the grace of Christ is sufficient to restore a repentant sinner to a state of full reconciliation with God and the Church. No wonder Christ gave us the Sacrament of Penance!
(2) "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (verse 2). Here John challenges the view that the atonement and salvation won by Christ is applicable only to Christian believers. This does not mean that the believer and the unbeliever have equal chances of salvation. The believer certainly has wider access to God's grace through the word of God and the sacraments. Nevertheless, God's love in Christ cannot be limited to the confines of the Church. Non-believers might be groping for truth in the darkness of their unbelief, yet if they search for truth with sincerity, the grace of God will find them even in the dark.
(3) "He who says I know him but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected" (verses 4-5). In some translations, "but" occurs in this sentence only once; in others it occurs twice. Here John challenges those who claim that they know God and love Him but make no serious commitment to keeping God's commandments. What John is saying here is that the degree to which one keeps God's commandments is a true measure of the degree to which one knows and loves God.
These teachings of John to the Christians of his own day apply equally to us Christians today. With regard to others, we need to be more understanding, knowing that noone, absolutely noone, is outside the orbit of God's love and mercy. With regard to ourselves, we need to be more demanding in so far as observing God's commandments is concerned.
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