Memorial of Saint Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr

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...."

1 comment:

  1. Further reflection on the Sacrifice of Isaac and John 3:16

    The sacrifice of Isaac, found in Genesis 18, is a most astonishing and frightful story. Had Abraham actually killed the boy, we can suppose, there would be no Abrahamic tradition at all. Who would worship such a God?
    Interpreters and interpretations are boundless, and the story will remain always as a challenge for contemplation. To understand it, the Christian turns to John 3:16.

    Any devout parent would readily commit suicide before killing her or his child. Mothers have told me that's a no-brainer! But God does not ask of Abraham his death; he wants Isaac’s death. He demands a total sacrifice. The narrator has already told us how valued the child is. He is the son of the promise, born after both father and mother have exhausted the child-bearing years. Abraham had often asked God, “When will you fulfill your promise?” Isaac had displaced another beloved first-born son, Ishmael, the son of a slave woman, Hagar. God wants a total sacrifice, Abraham's emptying of himself beyond himself.

    When we hear “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,” the story of Isaac must instantly come to mind. The verses, separated by centuries, are bound together by the words God, love, only, begotten and son. We must understand that God’s sacrifice is comparable to Abraham's!

    But we often suppose that “God” can do anything he wants. He is God after all! He could save us with a snap of the fingers, with a word as simple as “So be it!” or “Let there be….”

    That supposition overlooks both the supreme worth of the human being, and the supreme challenge of our salvation. Created in God’s image, blessed with God-like freedom, we have consistently and persistently refused to be saved. No sooner were we created than we threw off our freedom in the pursuit of doing what we want to do. That “historical” sin persists in the traditions and infrastructures of sin. A million years of violence cannot be uprooted by anyone’s wishing it were so. We always sabotage our best efforts to do right.

    Secondly, that supposition overlooks the supreme worth of the human being. We are so precious that nothing less than the death of God's only son can save us. But God does regard us as worthy, and his estimate is the one that matters.

    Genesis 18 and John 3:16 show us that God so loved the world he was willing to empty himself beyond himself, to surrender even his godhead. This is the kenosis of which Saint Paul sings in Philippians 2. He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped.

    We must worship this; it is beyond our ability to understand.


I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.