In one of the most sublime and magnificent passages in all of Sacred Scripture, the Prologue of the Gospel of John, we are given, in a few brief strokes of the pen, profound insights into the mystery of God and man, of the glory and the grievous tragedy of man’s responses to the coming of God in the flesh.
After briefly expressing the ineffable mystery of the unity of Nature (“the Word was God”) and the distinction of Persons (“the Word was with God”) in the Holy Trinity, the inspired author turns to creation: “all things were made through Him… in Him was life” (John 1:3-4). In a few verses he proceeds to express the incredible, unexpected (yet desperately desired) mystery of mysteries: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (v.14). The Almighty God came and lived among us as a humble man.
Even though He made the world, the world knew Him not (v.10), and this is the great tragedy, the beginning of what will be, for some, eternal sorrow and misery. He came to his own, for He had become man like us, but his own received Him not (v.11). It is ironic, as some have remarked, that when God stayed in his high heaven, his people worshiped Him; when He came so close that He could literally walk among them, they killed Him.
Yet this is neither the end nor the essence of the story. For the Giver of Life (who could not be detained even by death) is also the “true light who enlightens mankind,” and this “light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it” (vv.9, 5). We need that enduring Light in the darkness of this world, now more than ever. We can give thanks, however, that ignorance and rejection of God-made-man is not the last word on God’s mission to save mankind. For “to all who received Him, who believed in his name, He gave power to become children of God” (v.12). And these children of God do know the Word Incarnate, they do welcome Him. Not only that, they receive, from the very fullness of God, “grace upon grace” (v.16).
The Christian life is rich with “grace and truth” (v. 17), and with the hope of everlasting joy. In a sense, many of the sufferings we endure as Christians are because the world knows us not, receives us not. “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you” (John ). “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him” (1John 3:1). But since God desires that all people be saved and come to knowledge of the truth, there is always hope. And we ourselves are called to be light in a darkened world (Mt. ).
Today, much of the world still knows Him not, receives Him not—mostly through their own fault, though sometimes “invincible ignorance” or the counter-witness of unfaithful or worldly Christians is to blame. In any case, we must join our prayers, labors, and sacrifices with the great high-priestly prayer of Christ, who said: “This is eternal life: to know You, the true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Grace upon grace is the reward of those who receive Him.