May 18, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The three letters of St. John

John F. FinkNext week, for the seventh week of Easter, the biblical readings in the Office of Readings consist of the final two chapters in the First Letter of St. John, and then the Second and Third Letters of St. John.

Chapters 4 and 5 of the First Letter of John are a paean to love—love of God and love of neighbor. “God is love,” John writes, not once but twice (1 Jn 4:8 and 1 Jn 4:16), telling us that God’s very being is love. Therefore, anyone who is without love doesn’t know God.

Furthermore, it is not enough to profess that we love God. We must also love our neighbor because, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).

God proved his love for us, John writes, when he sent his only Son into the world as expiation for our sins. Our love, therefore, is grounded in our confession that Jesus is the Son of God.

We know that we love God and the children of God, John writes, when we keep God’s commandments, “and his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3).

John ends with an epilogue that says that he wrote this treatise “so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:13).

The Second and Third Letters of John, unlike the First, are true letters. They are very short, roughly the same length, probably because each was written on one piece of papyrus. Each says that it is from “the Presbyter” or “the Elder,” depending upon the translation.

The Second Letter is addressed to “the chosen Lady and to her children whom I love in truth.” It is assumed that this is a specific community. It concerns itself with particular problems within the community.

Just as in the First Letter, there were apparently those in the community who denied the teachings about Christ’s incarnation and death. These, the letter says, “are the deceitful one and the antichrist” (2 Jn 1:7).

The Presbyter advises that, if anyone comes to them who does not accept the true doctrine, “do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works” (2 Jn 1: 10-11).

Apparently, at that time there were wandering preachers who were trying to refute Christian doctrine. The Presbyter’s advice was to shun them completely.

The Third Letter is addressed to “the beloved Gaius whom I love in truth.” Gaius was evidently one of the local community’s leaders, loyal to the Presbyter in the problems that were dividing the community. He had been hospitable toward missionaries that the Presbyter had sent.

However, another member of the community, a man named Diotrephes, had refused to accept the missionaries. The Presbyter complains that Diotrephes “loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us” (3 Jn 1:9), and expelled those who wanted to receive the missionaries.

Therefore, the Presbyter says that he hoped to visit the community in person soon. †

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