1 John 5:5-13
This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
It seems like something beyond our wildest dream. How can it be possible? The Son of God, Jesus, becoming like one of us, human! When we think on this, the incarnation, it does seem difficult to believe, challenging to grasp from a rational viewpoint.
In the second century, John’s community in Asia Minor also struggled with this truth. Some within the community were spreading the heresy that the incarnation was false. This heresy, called gnosticism, claimed that the spirit is good, but matter is evil. And since Jesus is God, he therefore could only appear to have a human body, but he never actually suffered pain and death on the cross.
John’s community needed reassurance that what they had embraced — that Christ had come in the flesh — was true.
John tells his community — and ours — that Jesus came to us through water and blood, not water alone, but water and blood. Water may be interpreted to mean his baptism, his spiritual death, and blood his physical death. Water and blood may also refer to his human birth and death. Either way, John makes his point forcefully. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. We don’t have to take his word for it. The Spirit testifies to it — and the Spirit is truth.
We in the 21st century may not call this heresy gnosticism. Today, our secular culture spreads the heresy called holiday sentimentality. At Christmastime, the infant Jesus, who one day will preach and challenge and call us to take up our cross to Calvary where the lance will pierce his side, issuing water and blood, this Jesus is often wiped clean of water and blood, of any messy sign of humanity, and sentimentalized into something purely spiritual — and safe.
It may be that, like the second century Church, we today, on this Friday after the Feast of the Epiphany, also need to be reminded and reassured that Christ did come to us in the flesh. He became one of us. And in his messy humanity and divinity gave us the gift of redemption. It may seem like something beyond our wildest dream. But it’s true. And the Spirit testifies to it.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.