Friday, July 1, 2016

The Word from the beginning was always God

The opening line of John's Gospel reads:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
This text certainly has a more literal and metaphysical reading, which echoes back to the opening lines of Genesis and has to do with the creation of the world, and so on. I have written about this reading before. At the same time, however, there is a more allegorical reading of these words which has to do with the nature of God's promises and the expectations of the people of God. This is the more allegorical sense of the verse which I want to discuss in this posting.

From the beginning of the people of God, there was the Word which came from above, a message which promised and predicted something tremendous. Abraham knew this Word, which the Lord said to Abram: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you" (Gen 12:1). Moses knew this Word, too, when God spoke to him out of the burning bush, telling him that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had come down to free his people from their miseries. And likewise, God promised the people of Israel in Deut 18.15: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

Yet Deuteronomy closes with these words: Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face (Deut 34:10).  The Word had remained merely a Word, for the time being. Its fulfillment was something to be expected, something to be waited upon, for there had not yet come that time in which a prophet truly like Moses would rise up, one who would know the Lord face to face, in a way unlike all the other prophets which had been in the midst of the people of God in the meantime.

Therefore, from the beginning there was the Word -- this promise of God of blessing, of restoration, of a leader, and of all the other good things which God had promised his people. And this Word was with God, because only he knew when these things would take place. This is the inevitable estate of the human person: to be in a state of waiting and trust relative to the promises of God, the fulfillment of which cannot be foreknown with any certainty. More often than not, too, God has us wait for his promises longer than we would like, because he wants us to be patient. Yet the Word is with God: he hasn't forgotten what he's promised us, but its fulfillment lies with him.

John's gospel also speaks of a greater mystery: the Word was God. What is the substance of the fulfillment of God's promises? At the end of the day, what is God promising to his people, and what does what he want them to wait for? These final words of the verse reveal to us the mystery of the Incarnation, which was concealed in the promises of God from old: God promises his people himself, that he will be their God, they his people, and that he will give himself over to them as the most perfect gift which might come from above. The offspring Abraham and inheritor of the earth through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed; the redeemer who would accomplish a more perfection redemption from the slavery of sin and death than had done Moses; the prophet who would see the Lord face to face, and would make known his will to the people -- all of these promises find their fulfillment in God incarnate, in the Word become flesh (John 1:14).

From the beginning, the Word was always God. From the beginning of his dealings with people, God had in mind that tremendous moment of the Incarnation in which the creator of the world gives himself as a gift to the whole world, to be welcomed by them for their salvation and for their own happiness. All of the promises of God from the Old Testament are, in the end, a promise of us giving us himself. Thus John the Baptist is sent, as it was prophesied in the prophet, to "prepare the way of the Lord," and on this way appears Jesus from Nazareth (cf. Mark 1.1-9), because this Jesus is himself the Lord come to us -- to heal us, to forgive us, to save us, to teach us, to strengthen us, to bless us, if only we will accept him.

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