Given or Came?
I trust that you had a blessed Christmas and are basking in the glow of the holiday!
Sunday’s Gospel lesson, the first eighteen verses of John, are known as the “Prologue of John” and contain some of the most theologically dense statements in the New Testament. (Click here to read it.) I’d like to reflect on just one sentence today: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Verse 17)
Most modern, western Christians have been brought up to see “law” as a bad thing, and to contrast it with “grace,” so we hear a passage like this and we something bad (the Law given through Moses) being replaced by something wonderful (grace and truth through Jesus). But I do not think that is what John is suggesting. For the Jew of Jesus’ day, the law was an act of complete grace, not a contrast to grace! Any parent who has instructed a child on the rules of crossing the street knows that law and rules can be an expression of love. So it is with the law. Not leaving us foundering, destroying ourselves and one another, God has given us the law to protect and guide us. In the law we see the character of God revealed as we see how we are to live. Among the people John was writing for, the law is grace and truth!
So, the contrast for John is not between the “law” as bad and “grace and truth” as good. Rather the contrast is between the verbs. The law was “given,” grace and truth “came!” In the person of Jesus the grace and truth of God come to us as flesh rather than on stone tablets.
If this is true, then we need to put our understanding of law and grace back together in order to have a complete picture of God’s work with us. Our faith is neither lawless grace nor graceless law. In the person of Jesus, we see grace and law together, as it should be for each of us!
This column appeared in the December 29, 2019 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.