In today’s liturgy, we read from the Second Letter of St. John. Tomorrow, we will read from his Third. And beginning next Monday, we will work through his Apocalypse (Revelation) until the beginning of Advent. Ending the liturgical year with John—Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian—seems altogether appropriate when we consider that he was the last Apostle to die, thus ending the Apostolic Age of the Church. We, in this post-Apostolic age, now look forward to the End Times.
Today’s letter from John shares a number of characteristics with his other writings. Among these is the language of “following/walking in” and “abiding/remaining/dwelling.”
He says, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth” (2:4). He adds, “For this is love, that we walk according to his [the Father’s] commandments” (2:6). The language of walking in is a Hebrew idiom for “living” or “conducting one’s self” in a particular manner. John speaks this way also in 1 Jn 1:6-7, 2:6, 2:11 and in 3 Jn 3-4. These phrases can easily be interpreted in an overly moralistic way, but that would be to misread John. John is not the precursor to Pelagius nor is he reducing religion (or love) to morality alone. For John, what precedes the “walking in” or the “following” of the Father’s commandments and truth is the “abiding in” and “dwelling with” truth and love.
“In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10).
From his first letter, we see the primacy of God’s action and then our receiving of that action. God’s grace comes first, then our free will. God acts. We receive. And so John begins his second letter, “to the chosen Lady and to her children whom I love in truth […] because of the truth that dwells in us and will be with us forever” (1-2). He loves not by his own pure will, but because of this abiding truth. The principle of John’s love is the truth in which he dwells … or better still, the truth in whom he dwells, because this truth is Jesus Christ come in the flesh. And he in whom we dwell is not some abstract truth. He—Truth incarnate—is not a moral code or just another religious system. Jesus come in the flesh, true God and true man, is the “the way, and the truth, and the life” without whom “no one comes to the Father” (Jn 14:6).
John loves this Greek word for “dwell/abide/remain.” Jesus gives an entire lesson on this “abiding” when he speaks of the “the true vine” and the “branches” in the Farewell Discourse of John’s Gospel. John’s letters, then, act as a kind of commentary on this lesson. The other key place of this “abiding” in John’s Gospel is in his Bread of Life Discourse:
“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56).
How we abide in Jesus and in truth and love takes on a very concrete form within the sacramental life of the Church. Receiving Jesus’ love and grace in the sacraments—especially in the Eucharist and in Reconciliation—are essential if we, in turn, are to love and thus fulfill God’s commandments. To receive love in the sacraments is to imitate John. Recall that at the Last Supper he, “whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus” (Jn 13:23).
Let us be children “who walk in his commandments,” but let us not forget that we cannot do this without first abiding in love and resting on the breast of Our Lord.
Image: Valentin de Boulogne, The Last Supper