II Christmas, Year B
Jer 31:7-14 or Sir 24:1-12
Ps 147:12-20 or Wis 10:15-21
For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, "Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel." See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, "He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock." For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.
Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people. In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory: "I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud. Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss. Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway. Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide? "Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said,
"Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’ Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be. In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion. Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain. I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the
foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;
this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
As a piece of theological thought, the prologue to the 4G is without peer. It gives in these 18 verses, a theological paradigm whose elegance is displayed in its simplicity. It has been well said that “the Gospel of John is shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in.” The prologue is so foundational a text that from it one can build the entirety of Christian theology. All of the major themes are there: creation, the Creator, christology, anthropology, revelation, cross and resurrection, ecclesiology.
Yet the confusion about the Logos and its background haunts biblical scholarship. A Girardian reading of the text produces what has heretofore remained unseen: “In the two thousand years since they were written, these words have attracted innumerable commentaries. Read them, and you will see that the essential point always escapes the commentators: the role of the expulsion of the Johannine Logos” (Things Hidden).
Jean-Michel Oughourlian asks Girard: “Philosophers have always tended to see this [Logos] as John’s borrowing from Greek thought. Does this not blow a hole in the argument that you have just been developing? (Things Hidden).
Girard responds not by rejecting the Greek Logos speculation. He simply observes that the Greek Logos reconciles opposites through violence, that is, the ‘kosmos’ achieves its order and structure through victimage. Using Heidegger’s analysis of Hereclitus’ Logos, Girard shows that Greek philosophy and indeed western philosophy have followed opted for the violent logos, and that is why it has been unable to distinguish the Greek Logos from the Johannine one (so Bultmann). Girard says, “any real difference between the Greek Logos and the Christian Logos will have something to do with the question of violence.”
Once the mechanism of the scapegoat is detected, the gulf between the philosopher’s Logos and the Johannine one become clear: violence and love both reconcile, both abolish differences. However, “The Johannine Logos is foreign to any kind of violence, it is therefore forever expelled, an absent Logos that never has any direct, determining influence over human culture.”
The revelatory character of the Johannine Logos and its differentiation from that of the philosophers underscores its non-violent, loving character. “Love is the only true revelatory power because it escapes from, and strictly limits, the spirit of revenge and recrimination that still characterizes the revelation in our own world, a world which can turn that spirit into a weapon against our own doubles. Only Christ’s perfect love can achieve without violence the perfect revelation toward which we have been progressing.”
From this perspective of the rejection of the Logos, Girard is able to show how the developments of the two Logos theories have competed throughout western philosophy and culture. The one grounds life and reality in victimizing and violence, the other in love and forgiveness. There is no middle ground, no merging of the two is possible. To accept the Logos of God is to accept the alternative of peace; to reject the Logos is to reject the God who will have nothing to do with our violence and our violent theology.
I would urge folks to read in the early church writers on the Logos theory. These are available at www.earlychristianwritings.com Understanding the role that the Logos played in the development of Christian orthodoxy is essential to discern just where and how certain early Christian writers begin to mingle the Platonic and Johannine Logoi. The problems this created are still with us today. Ridding ourselves of Platonic metaphysics is the essential task for the Christianity today. Just as there is a biblical distinction between the logos of Greek philosophy and the Biblical Logos, so there must be a distinction in what we preach. If we have mingled Plato and Jesus, we should not be surprised that Plato will win out every time, for it misses the essential fact of mimetic violence.
Tony Bartlett has some important work on this. His essay on Heidegger is available online at http://www.covr2004.org/spkrs.html#tbartlett
I am not a big fan of Heidegger, having only read a few of his works, mostly to understand Rudolf Bultmann. But Tony is able to show the Platonic complicity in Heidegger. Modern Philosophy’s trajectory stems right from Plato. Isn’t it ironic then, that the death of philosophy should be announced by one who worked on Plato’s Pharmacy, namely Jacques Derrida?
If in the 1960’s it was the death of God, today it is the death of western metaphysics. Let’s move forward into a new anthropology which is the point of the incarnation anyway.
The prologue to the gospel of John is one on which hundreds of pages could be written! In the interest of honoring your study time we will only note some of the many possibilities that inform our perspective on this text.
The Prologue as a Hymn: The singing community
The early church was a singing community. The famous remark of Pliny, Governor of Bithynia in 117 C.E. that the early Christians rose at dawn to gather together and ‘sing a hymn to Christ as to a god’ is simply an external historical reference to that which runs throughout the New Testament. Whether gospel, epistle, rhetorical history or apocalypse, the liturgical character of the New Testament is always in the foreground. It is literature that was intended to be read when the Body of Christ was gathered together. As such, it has embedded in it like jewels in a crown, many pieces that are hymnic, psalmic, creedal, catechetical and the like. Philippians 2:5-11 is perhaps the most familiar.
As we noted in Advent, once verses 6-8 and 15 are placed aside, we have a metered text where the last words of the previous line becomes the first word or the tag word of the next line. Different commentators have come up with various reconstructions of the hymn itself. Each argument has its merit. But no matter how you slice it, it is pretty certain that this is an early Christian hymn to the Logos Jesus.
We believe that Alan Culpepper has made the most convincing case for the structure of the prologue (the hymn + the narrative sections). He demonstrates a chiasm with verses 12-13 as the center. The merit of Culpepper’s structure is that it points up the power of what happens when people receive the Word of the Creator. They become His children, who ‘exegete’ Jesus as he ‘exegetes’ the Creator.
The question regarding the background and milieu of the Logos has occupied a central place in Johannine studies in the 20th century. There are two different paths that can be chosen. We might follow Rudolf Bultmann who sees a Hellenistic background to this text. Bultmann argued that an early oriental gnostic myth has been filtered through Hellenistic (Alexandrian) Judiasm to produce the themes for the hymn. He says, “the Logos of John 1.1 cannot therefore be understood on the basis of the OT.
However, it has also been well argued that the Prologue can be understood against the background of Semitic thought. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the study of the Targums has provided an historical context through which to see many of the major Johannine themes. By way of this interpretation, we can trace the Logos theme back through Jewish reflection on the Torah, which comes as Wisdom (sophia), or as God’s Memra in the Targums. We only need to read Proverbs 8 or the Wisdom of Solomon to see the many themes of the Prologue. The Jesus/Moses parallelism throughout the gospel also lends credence to the theory of a Jewish monotheistic Background. Add to the mix J.L. Martyn’s thesis regarding the struggle of the Johannine community vis a vis the local Jewish community and it is almost impossible not to prefer this alternative to Bultman”s hypothesis.
[There is an excellent survey to 1975 in Kysar.]
The Prologue is essentially a Hebrew reflection: Peder Borgen has shown that if indeed a hymn, John 1:1-18 develops as a midrash on Genesis 1. The significance of this insight is that it intimately connects the Creator with the creation thus militating against any dualistic interpretation. (The Fourth Gospel’s anti-gnostic persuasion will keep popping up as we read it.) The Johannine community thus sees itself as the creator’s community, or as Hoskyns puts it, “the texture of the prologue is taken from the OT scriptures but is altogether Christian.”
We think that Schnackenburg points out a significant aspect to this hymn: “Nowhere else do we read of the rejection of the Redeemer by the world (contrast 1 Tim. 3.16c). On this point the Logos hymn has something to say, due no doubt to the fact that it had its own particular setting in real life and that it was conceived along the lines of Wisdom speculation. It is a recurrent theme in the Wisdom literature that Wisdom met with rejection when it came among men.”
If indeed the theme of rejection in this hymn stands out in relation to other hymns embedded in the New Testament, then Culpepper’s previously mentioned analysis of the Prologue and it’s chiastic focus on the acceptance of this Logos becomes even more important.
It is commonplace to argue that the metaphysical doctrine of the ‘Logos become flesh’ would have turned the stomach of any good Greek, and that may well be true. But the specific Word that comes is rejected. Why? As we will show over time, this Logos reveals a completely different structuring principle for the ‘kosmos’ and as such is a direct challenge to that of both Greek mythology as well as significant Jewish paradigms regarding God and Torah. Little wonder that this Logos is rejected.
“Jesus was rejected. But this rejection is no mere single historical episode. The Word of God is the Life of all humanity. When this life is recognized and accepted, it is light; for Light is the manifestation of Life. But the proper sphere of light is darkness. Light does not avoid the darkness: it shines in it. The Light of the Word of God shines in the midst of black opposition; and this opposition is human history.” (Hoskyns)
The value of this line of thought consists in showing that the word of God has always and again come to the people of God, both synagogue and church, who resist and ultimately reject it.
As a rule, commentators are not asking about the singing community. Clergy know that one significant sign of health in a congregation is when they sing passionately from their hearts. The Johannine community wrote its own music and sang its own songs. This is a community beset in many ways, yet never without joy. This is as important an insight as any developed by historical-critical exegesis. The community behind the Johannine literature was a vibrant and radiant group of people. As clearly as Paul, they saw with extraordinary vision the depth and breadth of what God had done in Christ. It stretched from before the beginning to after the end and encompassed everything in between. It was a community that knew the true peace “not as the world gives.”
Perhaps this community still has something to teach us today about the focus of our theology and the relation of that theology to our spirituality and life.
It cannot be emphasized enough that the so-called Johannine dualism is not a dualism at all, but the radicalization of dualism: “the Word became flesh.” It also cannot be stressed enough that contemporary Christian theology is permeated with elements of dualism, not to be found in the gospel! (Philip Lee Against The Protestant Gnostics)
The prologue to the 4G is not a metaphysical speculation on the incarnation. Rather it sings about the kind of God that is being revealed in Jesus. If in the Synoptics the question is “how is Jesus like God?” the Johannine gospel turns that question around, “how is God like Jesus?” It is this reversal, this turning from the violent god that calls us to reflect anew on the character of the One who “exegetes” God (1.18). It is He who imitates the Father so clearly that it can indeed be shown that God is love and has loved all humanity without distinction or differentiation and reconciles us without any vengeance or retaliation for our sin in rejecting the Logos of Peace. It is our hope that this text will be used not to simply rehash metaphysical flights of fancy but will rather focus on the character of the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.
For us, the Johannine prologue is a call to repentance. It is also a call to explore the irony of this revelation. Preaching Peace in a world structured by the Logos of violence will be rejected but it is the only hope of humanity.