John’s Gospel begins:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
It is perhaps one of the most profound openings to any story ever written. When I teach this Gospel in class, we spend a good deal of time just on this one verse alone. John’s Gospel is like that. I read a quote from Rev. Charles Spurgeon that said that this Gospel is “Shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough to drown an elephant.”
This means that you can enjoy the story that John tells just on the surface. And it is a wonderfully dramatic and compelling plot, written with great skill. But each part is pregnant with spiritual significance.
And the deeper you look, the more layers can be found underneath. And there is much to reflect upon, particular about who Christ is. The Word is Jesus.
What does it mean that Jesus is the Word of God?
I would like to spend some time with this first verse. I am not going to be able to expound all of its meaning. I don’t know if anyone could. I could write books about the ideas that John, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is trying to convey.
Instead, I would like to spend time with four points of reflection. I am sure wiser and more learned people could give you more than these.
1. Jesus was there in the beginning.
Like the Father and the Holy Spirit, there was never a time when the Son did not exist. The Second Person of the Trinity has not beginning. It is true that as the man Jesus of Nazareth, He does not become Incarnate until the first century.
But this idea introduced in John, the “pre-existence of the Word,” indicates that the earliest Christians understood Jesus’s eternal nature. As Christ Himself says later in the Gospel, “Before Abraham came into being I AM.” (Jn 8:58)
2. Jesus is in constant relationship to the Father.
Saying that the Word was “with” God implies a relationship. There is a unity, a togetherness shared by the Father and the Son. That is one of the reasons Jesus’ human life is a model for us. His actions are in complete harmony with the Father.
3. Jesus is Divine.
This first verse makes clear when it says “the Word was God,” that Jesus is not by-product of the Father nor some great part of the Father’s creation. Jesus is not a creature, He is the Creator. As John later writes of the Word, “All things came to be through Him and nothing that came to be did not come through Him.” (Jn 1:3)
This is an important piece of data that supports the Christian understanding of Trinity. The Father is not more God than the Son. Both, together with the Holy Spirit, are Co-Equal God. While this mysterious dogma will never be fully understood, we can at least see how this belief was conveyed from earliest times.
4. The nature of “words.”
This is the place I would like to spend the most time. Of all the ways that could be used to describe Christ’s relationship to the Father, I find the imagery of “Word” absolutely fascinating.
Why do we use words? Why do we talk? What is the end or purpose of words? They are not simple bestial noises or scratchings on paper. So why do we make them?
The answer simply is to communicate. We have minds that need to communicate what is inside them. Sometimes we do this through art. Sometimes we do this through action.
But the clearest and most precise way to communicate an idea is through words. I have an idea in my head (this article) and in order to get that idea transferred from my mind to yours, I must use the medium of words. Once you have read it, if I have done a decent job of writing, that idea that was in my mind now takes up residence in yours. And we now share the same mental space.
Sometimes we are good at expressing ourselves. Sometimes we are not. We usually judge good use of words and bad use of words by how well the capture or communicate the idea. The better the word, the better and fuller the expression.
To say that Jesus is THE Word means that He is the best and fullest expression of the Father.
God the Father is an artist. This is obvious by looking at all the minute and magnificent details of the universe. But the created world only partly conveys the nature of the True Artist. But in His one Word, He has fully communicated everything about Himself. God’s Word is God Himself. The Son is the perfect communication of the Father.
The Greek word used here is “logos.” This is the root word for many of our sciences like geology (science of earth), psychology (science of the mind), biology (the science of life), etc. It is even the root of the most fundamental concept in all sciences: Logic.
Another important reason why God’s fullest communication of Himself is “the Word” is to point to God’s rationality. This is always an important point reiterate as some people think that faith is the abandonment of reason.
But faith is not irrational. It cannot be. St. Thomas Aquinas made clear that the truths of both faith and reason have their same root source: God. And God is not a liar.
To say that Jesus is “Logos” points to the absolute rationality of God and the Catholic faith. To become more and more a person of faith is not to be come less rational and more superstitious, but to be come more rational and wiser.
And that Word is powerful. Fr. Larry Richards once told a little parable where God created the world and while He rested on the seventh day, Satan filled Creation with evil and bound God up with his serpent body and covered His mouth.
Satan began to laugh at God’s seeming helplessness and taunted Him, saying there was nothing God could do to repair all the damage. God indicated that He wanted to speak.
Satan thought, “What harm could there be in that? What could one word do?” So Satan removed His hold on God’s mouth, and He said, “Jesus.” And all the darkness in the world was forced out.
Of course not to be taken literally, this story reminds us of the power of the Word. In Christ’s name we are saved, we are forgiven, demons are driven out, and prayers are answered.
All by the power of the One Word: Jesus.
Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson
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