Lector's Notes on the wedding reading from 1 John, chapter 4

What the lector should know about the wedding reading from the First Letter of Saint John, chapter 4

First of all, which reading is it? How do you find it in the book? At a Catholic wedding, there are two possible readings from the New Testament's First Letter of John. In the lectionary (the large ceremonial book you'll be reading from), this passage has index numbers [802] atop the page, and 12 over the reading itself.

What's this page going to do for you? Regular lectors like to know the historical background of the Bible readings they proclaim in church. Learning this helps make sense of the passage and its sometimes puzzling statements. It tells them what the Biblical writer and the original readers were taking for granted, things we may not take for granted 2,000 or 3,000 years later. Regular lectors like to know how our Jewish and Christian ancestors found God's help and guidance in their struggles. Lectors believe God continues to be faithful, and that they can help contemporary people find God's guidance and strength through intelligent proclamation of stories and teachings that have stood the test of time. Good lectors view their part of the service as a help to the preacher, whose job it is to bring it all together in a way that lets people see the truth clearly, apply it to their current situation, and make a hopeful choice to love God and their neighbors. Some of those good things should happen among at least some of the people who will be hearing you read this passage. This page will help you do that with confidence, intellectual honesty, and charity.

Who wrote this and to whom? Some traditions say the author of this letter is the apostle and evangelist Saint John. The gospel according to John speaks of a "disciple whom Jesus loved," by which the evangelist my have meant himself, without specifically naming him. This letter may have been written by the same person, or by a disciple of his. What is clear is that there was a large, important and troubled community (or communities) of early Christian believers who coalesced around a leader whom some of their writings name "John," or "the disciple whom Jesus loved" or simply "the beloved disciple." The whole "Jesus-way" of doing things was unprecedented. It called for new approaches in relating to God, molding families, practicing religion, relating to neighbors and, especially, relating to non-neighbors and enemies. Gifted disciples like John, (and Saints Paul, Matthew, Mark and Luke) contributed inspired writings that helped these communities find their way.

What's the context of this part of the letter? Members of "The Community of the Beloved Disciple," as the great 20th-century American Catholic biblical scholar Raymond Brown called them, were beset with internal disagreements threatening to tear them apart. Simply put, some members had tried to take the hard stuff (hard to believe, hard to put into practice) out of the gospel. Others could tell that the proposed easier gospel wasn't faithful and wasn't going to be good in the long run. The arguing was fierce. The wise elder known as John or the Beloved Disciple wrote this to settle the arguments, bolster the true believers and vanquish the heretics (people promoting false, divisive teaching within a church).

For our purposes, know that the "bad guys" in this argument

  1. claimed special knowledge of the ways of God,
  2. wanted the community to reject the idea that Jesus was the Son of God and
  3. denied the divine the commandment to love others as Jesus had loved.
(Click here for a more detailed discussion of the arguments and the inspired writer's response.)

So this passage starts off, "Beloved, let us love one another because love comes from God." That's in response to the heretics' third point.

Then, "Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God" (contra point 1, the heretics' claim to have special knowledge of God).

Next, the writer connects the ideas of God loving us and God sending His son. Do you see how this is a response to the heretics' second bad idea?

So that we're not burdened with the impossibility of earning God's love, the writer next says the loving initiative starts on God's side. We need only accept that and respond as lovingly as we can.

The statement "No one has ever seen God" may seem obvious and unnecessary, but remember the dividers of the community claimed they had authority because of their special knowledge of God. The correct response is "No, we all can be sure God remains in us if we love one another."

Now how should you read this aloud? There's no context given in the text, but your listeners don't really need it. They expect to hear something about how to live a good life, and that's what you're going to give them.

If you dare, pretend you are the Beloved Disciple. You're the wise elder leading a troubled community. Your authority is in part due to your connection to the historical Jesus; you leaned up against him during the Last Supper. But mostly your stature comes because you walk your talk. You love this community. Its divisions break your heart. You have a very deep, mature spiritual life that gives you confidence when you speak about God. So just gently speak the saving truths. God will take care of the rest.

In other words, confidently, slowly tell your listeners, not just the bride and groom, but everybody who is there to wish them well, how to make this marriage succeed, and how to make all their relationships healthy. It can be that simple.

If you would like to know more: To learn more about the First Letter of Saint John, Click here. That's the introduction to the book from the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Next Chapter link at the bottom will take you into the book proper.

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Last update: January 6, 2011