When John came to write his gospel, he really started at the beginning. The first word of Mark's Gospel, which John was using as a model in many ways, is "beginning". But John does one better; the start of his Gospel, as we have just heard, is "In the beginning" -- the same as the start of Genesis. In fact we can read the first 18 verses of John as an extended commentary on the first verses of Genesis, centred on the role of the Word as an equal creative partner at the beginning of all things.
This story addresses many kinds of beginnings as it moves from the beginning of all things to the life of Jesus. There is the Creation of the world. There is the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry, which Mark too put at the beginning of Jesus' story. And there is the beginning of the Incarnation, the wonderful act by which, for a few short decades, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus. All that is here, at least in some measure, in these eighteen verses.
The story moves through many layers, both inside and outside history, deepening and becoming more complex as it does so, despite being only eighteen verses long. First we are introduced to God and the Word, a pair of divine Persons who will as the text progresses take on their more familiar names of Father and Son. The evangelist show us their roles in creation, in bringing light and life to humankind. God and the Word bring everything that is into being. Without them there would be nothing.
But the gospel goes on to tell us that the Word does more than this - the Word comes into the world, to the people the Word has brought into being: "10he was in the world and the world came into being through him and the world did not know him. 11He came to his own place and his own people did not receive him." The words of John's Gospel are so familiar to us, through much repetition, that sometimes it is hard to take in the magnitude of the claim, which no other gospel puts so starkly. The Divine Creator, the Word, became human and somehow lived with and among human beings! That is a pretty big thing to claim. And John the Evangelist never really tells us, or tries to tell us how this happens or can happen - probably wisely -- though he does spend a lot of space on the results.
And this divine layer is not the end of the layers of meaning here in this gospel. There is also the layer of history. For John, like the other evangelists, was concerned with the beginning of the story of Jesus. So, like Mark, he introduced John the Baptist to the story, as one sent by God to bear witness about the Word made flesh. And in telling about John the Baptist, the evangelist names Jesus for the first time in his gospel, making clear he was Word and Son, the one in whom we are being called to trust.
Yet another layer in this story is the human layer, the one about the human beings who were created by God and the Word, and are enlightened by the light and life of the Word. It is the act of the Word in coming to humankind that allows the eternal and the historical layers to interact. Because of that act there is an occasion for people to receive the Word when he comes among humanity, to put their trust in him. And those people are in a unique position: "12But to as many as did receive him, to them he gave the ability to become children of God. They are the ones that put their trust in his name, 13children begotten not of blood nor by the will of the flesh nor by the will of a man, but from God."
If we put our trust in him, if we receive him, then we can become children of God, not born out of some physical mating like the myths of the Greek and Roman gods, but begotten from God, the result of a spiritual birth. This too is an extraordinary claim, not put forward in the other canonical gospels. But it is repeatedly found in John's Gospel, an important theme of which is the invitation and the reality by which human beings like you and me become, with the help of the Advocate sent by the Father and Son, part of the divine family represented by God and God's Word.
Understanding what this means and how to achieve it is part of the journey that lies before us here at the beginning of this extraordinary gospel, at the beginning of an inner, personal, journey that takes us to places inside and outside ourselves which we had not dreamed existed. That is why I have chosen this passage, because it encapsulates for me the journey I began when I came down from the roof that night. The journey of a lifetime, and beyond, into John's Gospel, into my own inmost heart, and into the heart of God.
[Song: In the Beginning, (Jim Soles) - I can't find a video or audio of this hymn, sorry]
Continue to the next passage
Return to Introduction