Memorial of Saint John Neumann, bishop
(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17.23-25)
A couple of years ago a Harvard professor claimed to have evidence that Jesus was married. She produced a parchment with writing in Coptic in which JesJesus' wifeus refers to his wife. By itself the document could not have disproved the Christian belief that Jesus was as he indicates, “a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom” (Matthew 19:12). But it certainly could have sown doubt in believers that what the Church has been preaching since the beginning was not true. Upon investigation, however, the parchment has been shown to be a forgery. In the first reading today John the Elder calls for a similar kind of investigation regarding the claims of others about Christ and his community. He tells his followers that they must “test the spirits to see whether they belong to God.”
Throughout Christian history the Church has been plagued by dissension and fragmentation. Today’s reading tells us that it took place in the first century as well. The writer, who represents orthodox Christianity, condemns the group that has withdrawn from his community. He tells his readers that they can test the invalidity of the group essentially by their fruits. Since they do not believe that the Messiah came in the flesh according to the way John has been teaching, they are tragically wrong.
Extravagant claims are constantly levered about Jesus. Ten years ago, for example, people were taken up with Dan Brown’s allegation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers. We need be very wary of such ideas by testing them. In the end we will probably be convinced that the four canonical gospels say all that there is important to know about Jesus. They do differ among themselves in minor details, but the core teaching is consistent. We can put our trust in their claim that he died and rose that we might have eternal life.