When I was about 9 years old the Sunday-School I attended offered an incentive for memorizing Bible verses; a Bible with imitation leather cover. One of the first verses I learned was the opening verse of today’s Gospel reading; John 3:16. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I am not sure how much of it I really understood at 9. I knew at least that God loves the world, and he gave his only Son.
I had some idea that believing in Jesus would save us from perishing and give us eternal life, whatever that meant. At least it was an important promise that someday I would come to understand.
In the years since that time I have come to understand more and more what those words mean. In years yet to come I believe that my faith, my hope, and my love will lead me to even deeper levels of comprehending what we have heard in the Gospel read today.
A few weeks ago was my annual personal retreat. I chose Abp. Wm. Temple’s book, Readings in Saint John’s Gospel for spiritual reading.
I had read that book in seminary and again here as a postulant, over 55 years ago.
During the retreat I found myself discovering even greater depths than I remembered from my earlier reading.
Abp. Temple wrote that he considered Jn 3:16 even more central than “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) or “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8b) significant as both of those phrases are! He called that verse the heart of the Gospel. I have come to see what he meant. It shows us God’s love for the world!
That gift of love was an act of particular generosity, done once at a particular time and place. God gave his only Son for us, for our salvation!
For years; for ages upon ages; theologians have struggled to explain with clarity how necessary it was that God’s gift of love included the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension.
The important thing for us; for you and for me; is our acceptance of that Mystery.
With Faith, with Hope, and with Love God’s love for us can be seen. It is there, waiting for us; waiting for our minds and hearts to be open to it.
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