For God so Loved the World – Br. David Allen
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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I had some difficulties as a child that impacted my life for several decades. Change became my best friend. When ever I discovered myself in unfamiliar territory, not knowing what was happening or how to behave I clung to God. Always knowing that the familiar was filled with pain I received the unknown with gratitude. In that way God taught me to welcome each mystery He offered me. With this constant love, profound beyond my comprehension then or now, I found my way. Today I live a grace filled life, filled with awe. God’s love, given one mystery at a time, made it possible.
How beautiful to read of your healing by God’s endless love, Annalisa. Thank you for sharing your profound experience. Be blessed, now and always.
I was hit over the head so much and shamed with that verse that I’d be happy to never read it again. Does it say that we have to have our “come to Jesus” moment as the church defines if we are to go to heaven? Or that our belief in an afterlife is more important that our actions on earth? I prefer to accept THE Mystery, and to learn about salvation in this life here and now in order to understand that Mystery.
There was a sense of shame my evangelical friend’s parents had in explaining how their daughter in law had a liver transplant because she had destroyed her life through alcoholism. I startled them in my reply to them: That is how I celebrate Christ’s resurrection: old life made new, past destruction and death given new life, new opportunity and new love. That is the salvation I will believe in and focus on for now, for it speaks of a rich life teaming with love and vitality. And if I die to become leaf mulch or to come to some pearly gates, I can say I have lived to know heaven on earth, an imperfect one filled with glory and grace, and that is enough.
I have always appreciated your raw honesty and vulnerability when you post a comment here (and have missed seeing your comments in recent years). The way that you describe Christ’s resurrection and your understanding of salvation resonates with me. I have studied Scripture for decades and listened to the words of many, and what I’ve come to understand is that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. The Mystery is unknowable, unexplainable, at least to me. What I do know is that I want to follow Jesus to the best of my ability. And I believe you are correct in saying that woman’s life was not destroyed; rather, it is a form of resurrection, and we all go through it one way or another, even if we’re not aware of the miracle—the Mystery—of it. The meaning of John 3:16 to me is incomprehensible and has been so overused and often used so badly (damaging, shaming, etc.) that I no longer know what people mean when they use it as a talking point or call it the heart of the gospel message. For me, it’s something to be pondered over and over and over again, and it never ends. It shouldn’t. I’m wary of myself and of others when we declare we know what a scripture verse means. At that point, we have stopped learning and we have discarded the Mystery of the Word.
Thank you for your wise words and for sharing your lived experience.
And, what did we do? God gave us his Son and all that has meant to us over the centuriies.
And, we killed him. Christina
John 3:16 indeed summarizes the heart of the gospel message. Praise His Name! Thanks for this good homily, Br. David.
Thank you for the daily emails. I treasure them.