14 Mar Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
March 11, 2018
Deacon Blaine Barclay
John 3:16, (chapter 3, verse 16), is arguably one of the most famous verses in the New Testament. ’’For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’’. We read it on roadside billboards, people hold up the numbers ‘3:16’ on signs at sports events. One author says that John 3:16 contains the distilled essence of the whole of the Gospel. And for such a short verse, it does say a lot.
First of all, it tells us that God Loves. That God is not a distant, angry God who sent the Son to appease his need for vengeance. God loves, not just those who love God back, not just Christians, not just some small elect group of those who are saved, to the exclusion of all others. ’’God so loved the world’’. This love is not just some theoretical, self enclosed love, but a love that empties itself, pours itself out, gives itself, a love that in this case becomes the other, takes on the condition of the one who is loved. ’’God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son’’. In the person of the Son, God embraces the human condition right down to the bottom. Jesus is the ‘one flesh union’ between God and humanity. As Saint Gregory of Nazianzen says, ’What has not been assumed, has not been healed’. God takes the initiative in the mystery of the Incarnation and demonstrates for us a bottomless love.
And what is our response to this love, to the gift of this only Son, God for us, God’s self-donation in Jesus of Nazareth? What does God require of us in response to this love? John 3:16 says, ’’so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life’’. Other translations say, ’trusts in him’, ’has faith in him’. He has joined himself to us, by our belief, faith, trust, we join ourselves to him, we become one flesh with him, become the Bride of Christ, which is also the Body of Christ, the Church. As such, just as death is not the last word about Jesus’ being ‘lifted up’ on the Cross, he is also ‘lifted up’ in the Resurrection and the Ascension, so death is not the last word about us. United to him in our Baptism, our dying and rising with him, we live by faith, trust, belief, in Jesus. As such, we will not perish, but have eternal life’.
What is this eternal life which John 3:16 promises to those who believe in Jesus? St. Augustine of Hippo teaches us that, eternity is not a long time, that it is more of a quality of time than a quantity of time. It is the eternal now of God’s time which is really outside time as we know it. Eternal life is God’s life, and our participation in it, a gift beyond all deserving.
St. Paul in our second reading helps us to flesh this out a bit. Paul begins by speaking of the ’abundant riches of God’s mercy toward us’. Of ’the great love with which he has loved us’. An immense, incredible love for us, ’even when we were dead through our trespasses’, he says. Other translations speak of our ‘sin-dead lives’, or, our being ’spiritually dead’ because of our sin. In the middle of this state of affairs God comes to us in tender mercy and love.
On the cross, Jesus embraces the death that is ours, not only our physical death, but our ’spiritual death’ as well. How does St Paul put it elsewhere? ’For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’. (2 Cor. 5:2). In Baptism we have all died with Christ, we also rise with him. Let us enter into this rest. As our reading today puts it, God, ’’made us alive together with Christ’’. This is of course pure gift, not something we can deserve or earn. ’’For it is by grace you have been saved through faith’’, ’’this is not our own doing’’, Paul says. There is an over flowing abundance here that is pure gift, pure excess.
Is this not why the whole of the Christian life is ’Eucharistic’? The word ’eucharist’ means ’great thanksgiving’, gratitude, praise and worship. As such, the heart of a fully flourishing human life is ‘liturgical’. Human beings are created to be the liturgical completion of the whole of creation. Existence is a gift, therefore existence is also gratitude, gratitude overflowing with good works, giving with the same generosity, mercy, and love, that God has shown to us in Christ. ’’For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Begotten Son….Not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him’’, with him, in him, with us, his contemporary hands and fe