SET 1: Season of Epiphany
In the magnificent prologue to his gospel, John the Evangelist presents Jesus as the preexistent Word of God, who in the fullness of time became a human like us. Like God “tabernacled” among the Israelites during the Old Testament times, the Son of God also dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth. People could see his glory. He showed God’s grace through his miracles of mercy and spoke the truth about God. John the Baptist testified for Jesus as one ranking ahead of him. Jesus manifested God’s grace and perfected the Mosaic Law. Only he could show us the truth of heaven because he came from the bosom of the Father, and only he had seen the Father.
(John 1:14) And the Word became flesh; he pitched his tent among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son coming from the Father, full of grace and truth. (15) John bore witness to him openly, saying, “This is the one of whom I said: ‘The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me for he existed before me.’” (16) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (17) For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (18) No one has ever seen God, but the only Son made him known, the one who is closest to the heart of the Father.
Foreword of John’s Gospel
John, being a Theologian and visionary, gives a comprehensive prologue for his gospel (1:1-18). It states the key themes of Jesus Christ’s actions and preaching that John illustrates in his gospel.
(14) And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth
The Word became flesh
In the Biblical context, the flesh can mean sinful nature or the human body. Here the meaning is God the Word assumed a human body. Though the enemies accused Jesus of blasphemy and violating the Sabbath law, it has nothing to do with any sinful nature. So, some like New Living Translation, Contemporary English Version, Good News Translation, and God’s Word Translation, translate the passage as, “The Word became a person” (https://biblehub.com/john/1-14.htm).
Made his dwelling among us
Some translate the phrase “dwelt among us” as “tabernacled among us.” When John the Evangelist says, the Word (Jesus) “made his dwelling among us,” it reminds the readers of God’s dwelling among the Israelites during the Old Testament times. However, Jesus’ dwelling among the people was in a human form as one among them.
During the wanderings in the desert, the Israelites had God’s tent or tabernacle amid their tents. That was God’s meeting place with his chosen people, and His glory was visible there (Ex 25:8). God’s presence continued in the Solomon’s Temple. Once the Babylonians destroyed the Temple because of the Israelites’ sins, God’s glorious presence departed from there. It did not return in the temple reconstructed by governor Zerubbabel or later by King Herod the Great. The incarnate Word was the new mode of God’s presence among his people. That was a better presence because unlike that of the Old Testament, this presence of God was more tangible and accessible to all people.
We saw his glory
John the Evangelist had a vision of heaven on the island of Patmos. He wrote down that vision in the book of Revelation. He was also at Mount Tabor when Jesus exhibited his glory with Moses and Elijah. John, along with the other apostles, witnessed many miracles and signs that Jesus performed over three years. So, John could claim along with the other the apostles, “we saw his glory.”
The glory of the Lord means a manifestation of God’s presence. The rabbis call it Shekinah, which means “that which dwells.” Though the Bible does not use that term, the rabbis coined it to signify God’s dwelling on the earth. It was first visible when the Israelites left from Succoth escaping from Egypt. The Lord appeared to them in a cloudy pillar during the day and a fiery pillar by night (Ex 13:20-22). The Lord’s glory later filled the tabernacle. “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle” (Ex 40:34). This glorious presence of God continued in the Temple of Jerusalem (1 Kgs 8:10-11).
Seeing the glory of God does not mean seeing God face to face as we see one another. “Now, as soon as Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and remain at the entrance to the Tent, while the LORD would speak with Moses” (Ex 33:9). Though Exodus 33:11 says, “Then the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend,” what Moses saw was not God’s face but a column of cloud (Ex 33:20; 34:5). It was visible also to the Israelites. “When all the people saw the pillar of cloud at the entrance to the Tent, they would arise and worship, each one at the entrance to his own tent” (Ex 33:10). Moses requested God to allow him to see His glory (Ex 33:18). God’s response was, “But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Ex 33:20). It is like no one can look at the sun with naked eyes at noon and preserve the eyesight. So, God allowed Moses to see only God’s back (Ex 33:23). Jesus Christ affirmed that “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him” (Jn 1:18).
In the New Testament, we see God’s glory in Jesus because God dwelt among us through the incarnation of Jesus. According to Saint Paul, “For in him dwells the fullness of God in bodily form” (Col 2:9). So, Jesus said to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Since Jesus came to this world in a humble human form, people did not see his full divine glory because they see him with their human eyes. Peter, James, and John saw his glory on a mountain, and it terrified them (Mt 17:1- 13). So, John says, “And the Word became flesh; he pitched his tent among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son coming from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). We will see Jesus and his Father as they are in their full glory when Christ reappears (1 Jn 3:2).
Glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
Jesus manifested his glory through the miracles he performed. The miracle of turning water into wine at Cana was the beginning of showing his glory. “This miraculous sign was the first that Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. In this way he manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11). The disciples believed in Jesus as the Messiah because of these signs of glory. The glory that Jesus revealed was also the glory of his Father. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4). Jesus shared his glory with his disciples (Jn 17:22).
“Grace” stands for the divine mercy of Jesus. Instead of punishing us for our sins, Jesus took upon himself the punishment for our sins, rescued us from the eternal damnation, sanctified us, and will present us to his Father at his second coming. It is only because of Jesus’ saving action that we are eligible for eternal salvation. Isaiah wrote 700 years before Christ on how Jesus would show his grace toward humanity: “Yet ours were the infirmities he bore, ours were the sufferings he endured; although we considered him as one punished by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was wounded for our sins, he was crushed for our wickedness; the punishment that made us whole fell on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:4-5).
When a child makes a mistake and becomes helpless, the parent rescues the child even at a loss or suffering. God the Father sent his only Son Jesus to do the same for His children who are in a helpless situation. So, Jesus fought for us against the devil, suffered for our cause by taking our iniquities upon himself, and offered himself as the sin offering for us. Without Jesus, we could not achieve this.
No other religion has a God that would show such grace to the believers. Humbling himself as a suffering person, sacrificing for the faithful, and forgiving the faults of those who hurt him are characteristics of this incarnate God.
We who are sinful cannot achieve grace by ourselves. So Jesus did it for us. To imitate Christ is to take up the acts of Jesus’ grace and mercy in our lives. The mercy that the father showed to his prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32), the rescue and forgiveness Jesus gave to an adulterous lady brought to him for stoning to death (Jn 8:1-11), Jesus’ prayer for the forgiveness of those who crucified him (Lk 23:34) are examples for us to learn from the mercy of Jesus.
We shall try and understand “truth” by analysing its opposite, the lie. In Adam and Eve’s story, God told them the truth, whereas the serpent lied to them (Gen 3:1-3). The first parents believed the liar and rejected the truth. Throughout salvation history, God has told only the truth through the Law and the prophets. Many followed the truth, and most went away from the truth and worshipped false gods. So, turning away from the truth is sin.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus identified himself with the truth. He did not just talk about God, instead, he showed how God was like. There were many false leaders during Jesus’ public ministry. But they were no better than ‘the blind leading the blind’ (Mt 15:14). Jesus is the only truth because he is God. “Jesus went on to say to the Jews who believed in him, ‘If you live in my word, you will indeed be my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free’” (Jn 8:31-32).
The lie might give a temporary solution, but will not last and will ultimately lead to destruction. Jesus always told the truth, and his enemies crucified him. That later paved way for his victory over death. The martyrs of the church and many other Christians stood for the truth and suffered. They still live in heaven and the devotions of the believers. Being truthful to our doctor, confessor, lawyer, parent, or friend is necessary for our success in distress. The lie of the devil brought punishment to humanity. The truth of Jesus leads us to victory over evil and sin.
(15) John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me’”
John was six months older than Jesus. Still, Jesus existed before John because Jesus the Word was with God before the foundation of the world. John acknowledges his inferiority before Jesus.
(16) From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace
There are three varying translations of this verse. When we read “grace in the place of grace,” it can mean the new covenant of Jesus replacing the old one of Moses. If we translate “grace upon grace,” it means accumulating the grace of Jesus over the grace received through Moses. Another translation is “grace for grace,” which can mean the grace of Jesus corresponding to the grace given through Moses. When we view it independently of the old Law given through Moses, the meaning is that through Jesus we receive a plenitude of grace.
(17) Because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ
Before the coming of Jesus, the Mosaic Law governed the Israelites. Regardless of their like or dislike, whether or not they understood, they had to keep the laws, like slaves obeying their masters. However, Jesus perfected the Law by making it as the loving guidance of a father to his children. So, in the place of God as a mere lawgiver and judge, Jesus presented God as a loving parent.
(18) No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him
No one has ever seen God
Though there were manifestations of God like shekinah cloud or fire, no one saw God directly and no one understood heaven. Until Jesus opened the gates of heaven for us, we were not eligible to enter there. The saints who died before Jesus were resting in the bosom of Abraham and were waiting for Jesus’ victory for regaining the lost paradise.
At the Father’s side
This shows the son’s closeness or intimacy to the Father and the authority he shares with his Father. Usually, the one who is close to a person in authority will recline with him. The prime minister sits at the side of the king.
1. We are fortunate to experience God in our midst. Though we cannot see Jesus in his human form at present, we see, listen, and receive him during the Holy Mass.
2. The grace of God came to us through Jesus. He shared that with his apostles and their successors, who handed it over to us. We need to extend the same to our fellow humans by our acts of mercy and self-sacrifice.
3. Jesus is the truth that will set us free. Let us follow the true teachings of Jesus so we are in the right direction to heaven.