For God So Loved the World
Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare)
March 15, 2015
Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
Meditation: Andrew Musgrave
This week we have perhaps the most powerful and famous of all verses in the Bible. I’m confident that John 3:16 was one of the first Bible verses I ever learned, and I’d guess you might say the same thing.
Before I reflect, I have to say that I think the Church did a great job this week combining the three readings. The first two readings are two tangible sides of one coin. In 2 Chronicles, we hear about the punishment of the Jewish people due to their infidelity to God’s laws and lack of respect for the prophets. And then Ephesians offers a counter-image of a merciful and loving God who, despite our sins, sent Jesus (His own son) to us, thereby raising us up and saving us through faith, a faith we have only through God’s grace. The gospel then explains in a beautiful and poetic way why this is our reality. Powerful, right?
As a person who spends much of his time working towards a more just and compassionate community, it’s hard not to see the strong call in these readings to live lives of mercy and love. In the first reading, I think of those prophets, begging, pleading with God’s chosen people to do what is right. The people, however, are caught up in their self-concern and belief that their success is due solely to their own efforts. This blindness leads to a lack of gratitude which surely translates into a lack of grateful actions; i.e., not using their gifts to help those in need. The failure of both faith AND works leads to God’s harsh judgment. In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that it is only through God’s grace and mercy that we are saved. This section of Ephesians focuses on the unity of the Church in Christ, a unity on which we are called to always work, welcoming everyone because we are all endowed with dignity and worth simply (and wonderfully!) by virtue of being a creation of God.
In the gospel, I imagine that most of us focus on the first two verses since they offer such a hopeful and inspiring message: we need “only” believe in Christ to gain eternal life. From a place of pure love and mercy, God gave His Son (in His birth and then His death) to save our souls. But I’d like to focus on the last verse, 3:21: “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” What does that mean to “live the truth”? We could look at all the many lessons that Jesus teaches us to answer that question, or we could – just as effectively – look only at the culmination of His teachings: Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself (Mk 12:30-31). As people of faith, it may be easy to love God. Hopefully, it’s also easy to love ourselves. But it’s that other part – loving our neighbors – that gets tricky, and I think really sets us apart. We live busy lives, and the busy-ness isn’t bad. We work hard, try to provide for our families, care for those we love and plan for the coming years so that we don’t have to struggle and rely too much on others. These are all good things. But what amount of our time do we devote to the other? How much of our energy is directed toward improving the lives of those on the margins, those who have been neglected or forgotten by the world? How many people outside of our close circle of friends are included in our thoughts and prayers; and do those thoughts and prayers lead to charitable, compassionate and justice-focused actions? It is in these that we “live the truth” that Christ teaches us, because – as Matthew 25 tells us – “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
This week, as you continue to engage in the wonderful process of Lenten calm, quiet and evaluation, I pray that you can hold, side by side, these two beautiful ideas in your heart: the merciful gift of eternal life AND the call to use this earthly life to live the truth. May we live our lives in service to, solidarity with and love for all of the world, especially those calling out for justice.
Pray, Reflect, Discuss
In what ways can you better follow God’s call to fidelity and remember what God has done for you?
Where do you see the grace of God working in your life?
Do you live a life that shows you prefer light over darkness? What are some examples?
How do you live the truth, showing compassion and a heart for justice?