I typically use the New Revised Standard Version for these reflections but I found the Common English Version to be simply fascinating. Enjoy a fresh perspective on this well known poem.
In the beginning was the Word
Full disclosure - I'm a gospel of John fan. I read this translation and I'm almost giddy with delight.
10 The light was in the world,
and the world came into being through the light,
but the world didn’t recognize the light.
Translation note - This verse isn't typically translated this way. It's translated "He was in the world and the world came into being through him and the world didn't understand him." So, I looked it up and the verse translates like this, "It was in the system and through the system it came and the system didn't know it."
What I love about the gospel of John is that the writer(s) is synchronizing traditions throughout - weaving Greek cultural with Judaism. The writer is faced with a mixed marriage of sorts - Greek followers of Jesus worshiping alongside Jewish followers of Jesus. Their rich cultures are growing on one another and this writer provides the first quilt for us to wrap up with. When we get close enough to it, we see the stitches that hold odd pieces together and we see the strings that are coming undone.
For the Greek culture, this is the beginning of their creation myth: In the beginning there was only chaos. Then out of the void appeared Erebus, the unknowable place where death dwells, and Night. All else was empty, silent, endless, darkness. Then somehow Love was born bringing a start of order. From Love came Light and Day. Once there was Light and Day, Gaea, the earth appeared.
For the Jewish culture, this is the beginning to their creation myth: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And the writer of John's gospel says: In the beginning was the word - the logos in Greek, the dabar in Hebrew, the creative force of the universe. And this creative force was with God, it was God, it was with God in the beginning.
What came into being through this creative force was light and that life was light to all people.
The light shines on all people. The world, the system, the cosmos came into being through this light and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not extinguish it.
For so many, the idea of God as a person, specifically a man in the sky is no longer a viable option. Our world doesn't make sense with that kind of myth. And by our world, I mean a Western 21st century worldview. Post industrial revolution. Driven by capitalism. Connected by the internet but disconnected with one another. Filled with injustice and inequality. An ethnically diverse world, where we mingle our cultures and explore our cuisines.
What kind of myth speaks to this culture? John offers us "A system with light and life." The light and the life comes into the system and the system doesn't recognize it. The light and the life seems foreign to the darkness that is pervasive.
And John equates this very human person, the Palestinian Jew named Jesus with the light and life that comes into a system and the system doesn't recognize it.
Both the Greek folks and Jewish folks in this community of faith would've been intrigued and offended by this quilt that John has stitched together. For the Greeks - a human with skin and bones and snot and tears cannot possibly be equated with the light and life of the creative order. The cosmic implications will be ruined by the humanity of it. For the Jew - the God of Abraham who called things into existence cannot be defined as the life and the light of the Greek creation myth. God is a person. Jesus is a person. The personal implications will be ruined by the cosmic picture.
Yes. Both myths bastardized for the purpose of creating a quilt that we in the 21st century have been wrapping ourselves up in for so long it is showing signs of both wear and love.
We wrap ourselves around the idea that the light was in the world and the world, even we, came into being through this light. But we still live in a world where the light still seems foreign.
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