[Homily. First Friday. Jan. 7, 2022.]
Our reading for today from 1 John begins with a question: “Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” It is really a proclamation: The victor over the world is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Who is Victor Over the World?
But that may really seem counterintuitive. Among the many contenders for the title “victor over the world” the relevance of belief in Jesus is not apparent. Some would point to US President Joe Biden trying to rally the democracies of the world to conquer it for freedom. But he is stymied by a flawed domestic political situation where a minority led by a former President continues to undermine the democratic institutions of the US with impunity. Others would point to President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia asserting the superiority of centralized authoritarian governments to achieve the common good. But their claims are flawed by their disregard for the human rights of minority communities like that of the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang Province or that of democracy-loving Hong Kong. Another view is that the victor over the world today is the ever-mutating Coronavirus19. Or, increasingly-irreversible climate change. Both vie for the title, “Victor over the world” because of the inability of human beings to come together, sacrifice private interests, and freely collaborate towards achieving the common good.
The One Who Believes that Jesus is the Son of God
But 1 John is saying: the victor over the world is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is said in the context of a clear recognition of darkness and death in the world. There is no spiritualization of darkness and death in order to escape it. Indeed, John warns us against the world:
“Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever” (1 Jn 2:15-17). We may be familiar from our experience with what Paul enumerates as indicative of the world that opposes Christ: the reduction of incarnated love to sensual lust, the sacred beauty of the body reduced to cheap pornography, power and creativity to vanity, and honor and integrity to pretentiousness in living, morally-compromised riches, passing wealth.
But 1 John says, “The victory that conquers the world is our faith. The victor over the world however is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. … This is the one who came through water and Blood. Not by water alone, but by water and Blood. The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth. So there are three who testify, the Spirit, the water and the Blood, and the three are of one accord” (1 Jn 5:4b-8). The Johannine community is proclaiming something about Jesus yet unprecedented. That Jesus is not just the long-awaited Messiah who would ransom the world from sin through his suffering and death (Mark and Matthew), nor the deeply compassionate Prophet-Martyred in his care for the poor, the sick and the marginalized (Luke), but the only Son of God, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being with the Father through whom all things were made, the incarnated pre-existing Word come down from heaven for the salvation of humankind. Testifying to him are three: the water of his baptism through John the Baptist attesting to his fidelity to the Law, the Blood of his self-emptying passion and death where he was lifted up to his glory, and the Spirit who gives testimony to him[i] through his many signs. Meaning: it is God himself who gives testimony to Jesus as the divine Son of God in the signs and within the persons who see the signs and believe. “Whoever believes in the Son of Man has this testimony within himself. … And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn 5:10-11).
God is Light. God is Love.
In placing our faith in Jesus, the Son of God, the darkness of our world is overcome. If we act in truth and walk in the light we are able to enter into a new enlightened fellowship with one another as his redeemed.
“God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, we have fellowship with him, while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:3b-7).
Loved by God, we are to love one another. [This is our First Friday mantra.]
“…God is 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. Beloved, if God so loved the world, we must love one another” (1 Jn 4: 8b-11).
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar. … This is the new commandment which we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn 4: 20-21).
So beloved, we return to the question of 1 John: Who indeed is the victor over the world? The victory that conquers this world is our faith.
The Victor Believes and Acts in Love
The victor is he who believes in Jesus as the incarnate Word of divine compassion knowing that the oppression of the poor and the marginalized is unacceptable to him in this world and who therefore acts in love against the oppression. He acts in love to heal those wounded in love or for lack of love.
The victor is he who believes in Jesus who, lifted up, lifts us up to the glory of the Father (Jn 12:32) and who therefore cannot accept life maimed or mangled or trampled upon in body or in spirit by structures of injustice in the world and so acts in love to dismantle those structures.
The victor is he who believes in Jesus who comes “to bring us life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), and who therefore cannot accept the condition of people whose lives are diminished and truncated by the irresponsible destruction of God’s creation, our common home, and who therefore are willing to act in love against uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions, irresponsible extractive activities, the destruction of our forests, and unbridled consumerism.
The Victory Belongs to God
The victor over the world is he who believes that Jesus is one with his Father, is He who is “I AM” (Jn 5:17b, Jn 8: 24.28.58., Jn 18:5.8., Ex. 3:4) who lays down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:11-18). The victor is one who knows the victory does not belong to him or her, but to God. “Born of God” we are “empowered to become children of God” (Jn 1:12-13) in the glory of him who is “the only Son of God, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14.) “In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. ‘But take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:35b).
[i] In yesterday’s gospel we heard Jesus proclaim, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free” (Lk 4:18).