One of the things that I really love about Sacred Scripture is the fact that you can often read any given passage 100 times over, and upon reading it the for the 101st time you can suddenly gain a completely fresh perspective.
Earlier this week, I was really blessed in this way in my reading of the first chapter of St. John’s First Epistle. As I was reading, I was struck by just how Catholic this Epistle is in its doctrine e.g. the requirement of unity with Apostolic Tradition (and by implication Apostolic Succession); or how being cleansed by the blood of Jesus ties in with the necessity of walking in holiness (as opposed to Martin Luther’s doctrine of being saved by faith ALONE) .
This really got me on the track of taking a step back and trying to read the Epistle from a fresh perspective. Rather than simply reading the passage the way I had always understood it, I decided to try to read it more through the eyes of the Holy Catholic Church.
[I know, you are probably thinking “Why didn’t you do that in the first place? After all, it was the Church that gave us these Scriptures”. My only defence is that old habits die hard].
So I started reading 1 John 1 again...and again...and again...But this time I tried to read it as a Catholic. And as I read, verse 7 just kept jumping out at me. Then it hit me...like a big ten foot truck...
So, I trust that you will allow me to take the wheel of said truck and hopefully share with you what I found...
1 Jn 1:7 says:“...but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Before becoming Catholic I had always thought of being cleansed by the blood of Jesus as a purely figurative and symbolic thing. But this is only half the truth. God created us body AND soul – so His redeeming of us is a body AND soul affair. This is the heart of Catholic Sacramental theology i.e. God doesn’t just deal with us as spiritual beings; He deals with us as physical AND spiritual beings.
In understanding this, we come to see that being washed by the blood of Jesus is more than just a figurative notion – there is also something tangible that God gives us as the means by which He accomplishes this grace in our lives.
The most obvious way that this happens is through the waters of baptism – what St. Paul called the “washing of water by the word” or the “water of rebirth” (see Eph 5:26, Tit 3:5, cf Jn 3:5). Elsewhere, the Scriptures speak about the various baptisms (washings / cleansings) of the Old Testament which were carried out by the sprinkling of the blood of calves and goats on the people (see Heb 9). The difference now, Hebrews tells us, is that we are no longer cleansed by the blood of goats and calves, but we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb 9:12-14). In other words, the Old Covenant baptisms (by sprinkling of animal blood) have been replaced by Baptism in the New Covenant whereby we are washed in the blood of the Lamb of God.
But, it goes even deeper than this. Baptism is only the beginning of our being cleansed by the blood of Jesus. The Catechism teaches us that:Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is "given up for us," and the blood we drink "shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins." For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins” – CCC # 1393
After reading 1 Jn 1:7 over and over again, I believe that this is what St. John is ultimately getting at. In fact, the only two places in the New Testament where the Greek words for “fellowship” (koinonia) and “blood” (aima) occur together is here, in 1 Jn 1:7, and in 1 Cor 10:16, which says:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [or “fellowship”] of the blood of Christ?”
So, what I came to realise as I meditated upon this passage is that what St. John is calling us to is is holiness of life, so that we can worthily participate in Holy Communion which not only unites us in common fellowship with each other [see here for more on this], but also accomplishes within us the forgiveness of our sins.
And so I submit to you this “fresh” Catholic perspective of 1 Jn 1:7...a verse that is so intensely Catholic that it goes to the very “source and summit” of our faith – the Lord Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Eucharist.