The Book of Ecclesiasticus, from which our first reading comes, is also known by the Hebrew name of its author, Sirach. It is one of the last books in the Old Testament (190 BC) and is part of the Wisdom Books in the Old Testament, emphasising ‘God in everything.’ Though originally written in Hebrew, the only complete version to survive is in Greek.
One of its lessons is that true wisdom comes from God. Wisdom is presented as a feminine figure, pre-existing creation. We are told that such ‘divine wisdom’ is given to God’s chosen people, i.e. to the followers of Jesus. The wisdom of God has pitched her tent among the chosen people. The first reading deals with the presence of God to and among his people.
For the author, in his own time, the ‘Wisdom of God’ was to be found in the Torah (rather than in Greek philosophy or other arguments from pagan neighbours). For us, in our time, the ‘Wisdom of God’ is incarnated in Jesus. He came as the true light to enlighten ‘all people’.
How aware are you of God’s closeness to you?
“May the good Lord walk with us and bear with us in all our journeys through life. May his presence enable us to face whatever the future holds, whatever might await us.
May we hold fast to his reassurance that he will attend us and abide with us, even to the ends of the earth. Amen“. (Denis McBride CSsR)
The opening lines of St John’s Gospel [the Prologue] summarise John’s view of Jesus. John asserts, in opposition to the synagogue leaders, that Jesus was (a) a divine being, (b) ‘the light’ who reveals God and (c) God’s only Son who comes into the world and becomes flesh. In trying to explain what he meant, he drew on ideas from the Old Testament that spoke of God’s Word. From John’s point of view, Jesus was God’s Word spoken to the people of Israel. It is a central belief of our faith that God did not hide his face, but revealed it in his Son, Jesus.
The Prologue introduces topics and images like life, light, darkness, truth, witness, glory, the world, which are developed throughout the gospel. Because it is precisely the Prologue and merely indicates these great themes, you would expect them to recur across the Gospel and they do. In fact, the Prologue cannot be fully understood until the Gospel as a whole has been read. The climax is not at the end of the reading of the Prologue, but is in the centre:
‘…to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.’ (v.12)
On either side of this verse, are rejection by his own people, and acceptance by those who see his Glory. This theme of acceptance and rejection runs right through the Gospel of John: some people accepting (the disciples, Nicodemus, the man born blind), some rejecting (the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews). The disciples accept at the Marriage Feast of Cana; the Jews immediately reject at the Cleansing of the Temple.
You cannot remain neutral; you must either accept or reject. It is a great trial scene, and we judge ourselves by our reaction to Jesus. The Father has given all judgement to the Son, but the Son judges no one.
The last dread scene is when the Jewish leaders pass sentence on themselves before Pilate seated as judge and Jesus crowned as king; they reject God’s kingship by saying 19:15: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ There is no need for sentence to be passed, for we pass our own sentence on ourselves.
And so the second point to ponder from today’s readings:
Who has Jesus been for me along the way? Who is Jesus to me now? If I were challenged to put words on my faith in Jesus, what would I say?
‘… and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.’ (vv.4-5)… We hear the Gospel message frequently. Sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other. Then there are occasions when it made us feel more alive, times when it helped us to see the week ahead, like a light that shines in the darkness. Recall when the gospel gave you hope in the midst of anxiety or sadness and helped you to see what action would be most life giving for you and for others.
‘He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light.’ Bring to mind people who have had a prophetic voice in the world – speaking the truth for the world to hear, like a witness to testify to the light. Some of these have been public figures. Others were ordinary people who have helped you to see the ‘light’ by the witness of their own lives and words.
‘No one has ever seen God.’ (v.18)… It is the only Son of God, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. Jesus came to teach us about God and put a human face on God for us. For the people of his day, and for us, that was a mission of getting us to think again about how we see God and to believe in a God who is a God of love. Recall how the life and ministry of Jesus have changed your picture of God.
We often say that it is hard to pray because we cannot imagine God. But God has seen this problem, and has painted a perfect self-portrait in Jesus. Now we know what God thinks about us and how much God loves us. I might make a New Year resolution that in the year ahead I will give quality time to getting to know Jesus better.
Beginning again is an invitation to look in two directions. What happened for me in the last year, both in my ordinary life and in my life as a believer, a person of faith? For what do I ask forgiveness? For what do I give thanks?
We also look forward and the new beginning gives us a chance to start again on the Way of Discipleship. The Gospel is an invitation to wake up, to keep watch, to live fully the present moment under God, in whom we live and move and have our being.
Wake us up, O God, at the start of a New Year.
Rouse us from the slumber of the everyday that we may recognise you in every moment and in every person every day of our lives. Amen.
With thanks to Sister Phil McGuinness SSL, Knock, Co Mayo