God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
John 3:16 is often sited as the most important verse of the New Testament. I would not name any bible verse, prayer or tradition as the last word on the Christian life; nor am I inclined to display the placard at football games; but I enjoy reflecting on, "God so loved the world...." It's an excellent place to begin one's religious life.
Many people grow up in violent households, study in violent schools and play on violent playgrounds; they naturally suppose that God must be arbitrary, vindictive, dangerous, profoundly unhappy, satiated with power, and generally unpleasant. John 3:16 teaches another message. God loves the world and is supremely pleased with it.
God gives his "only-begotten Son." The expression recalls the Lord's test of Abraham; he should sacrifice "your only son whom you love." Although God intervened before Isaac was murdered, Abraham certainly satisfied God's demand. He was a hundred years old and had waited eighty years for the birth of his only heir, but the Patriarch proved his total dedication to God. John 3:16 invokes that memory when we ask, "Who is Jesus?" He is the Beloved; he is given for our salvation.
This verse insists that God never intended human life to end in futility. We are not an idle experiment of a mindless universe. Nor are men and women playthings of the gods, pushed around on some cosmic battlefield like Trojan and Greeks warriors of the Iliad. Most people experience futility; we are betrayed by loved, trusted friends; and we cope with 'moral injuries."
These painful moments empty our souls of spirit. There seems no reason to hope. But they should not lead us to despair. Rather, they direct our hearts and minds to the Living God who empties himself in love for us, as Abraham emptied himself when he bound his twelve-year-old son to a makeshift altar.
If we are discouraged because we thought keeping faith should not be so difficult, if we thought the practice of religion would bypass roadblocks, John 3:16 reminds us it wasn't supposed to be easy. If we thought we should not be brought to the edge of despair the Gospel shows how Jesus willingly and generously dove into the vortex of despair.
Saint John underlines the deliberate nature of Jesus' sacrifice when he tell us how the Lord dipped a morsel and gave it to Judas Iscariot and said, "Do it." Now it begins, he added.
The death of Jesus cannot be called a tragedy. It was a sacrifice "so that everyone who believes in him might not perish. but might have eternal life." We do well to promote John 3:16 as an entry to religious life. so "that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned...."