No one can dispute that there are horrible things happening in the world today. Police officers shot in Ferguson. An Iraqi man murdered in Texas. Increased violence in Iraq. Kids killing themselves as a result of bullying. Racist hate crimes. The list goes on. For me, the horror increases when these behaviors are justified by religious beliefs.
For many who identify themselves as Christians, John 3:16 is used as justification to condemn another who is not a “believer.” A great disservice is done when this verse is taken out of context. I don’t think it was ever meant to be a litmus test for faith and it certainly should never be used as grounds to devalue another human life.
While my Greek is a little rusty and I don’t claim to be an expert, here is my translation of this week’s Gospel reading. (The words in italics are words I changed to be inclusive and, therefore, are not the literal translation.):
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desolate place, so must the child of humanity be lifted up that everyone believing into the child of humanity should not be being destroyed but may be having life eternally. Thus, God loves the cosmos so that God gave the only begotten One, that everyone believing into the Begotten One should not be being destroyed but may be having life eternally. God did not commission the Begotten One into the cosmos to be judging the cosmos but that the cosmos may be being saved through the Begotten One. The one believing into the Begotten One is not being judged. The one not yet believing already has been judged because that one has not believed into the name of the Only Begotten of the God.
This yet is the judging that the light has come into the cosmos and the humans love the darkness rather than the light, because of their wicked acts. For everyone practicing foul actions is hating the light and is not coming toward the light that their actions may not be exposed. Yet the one doing the truth is coming toward the light that one’s acts may be being made manifest as done in God.
These verses are part of a conversation with Nicodemus who asked how he could inherit eternal life, how he could become more like Jesus. These words are part of Jesus’ response to Nicodemus; they are personal. They mean something more than we usually hear.
When I read the Greek, I hear an on-going process. It sounds less like something that was done long ago and more like an invitation that continues even now. We are invited to believe into, to live into, the Light. If we don’t or can’t, it is more than likely because something we are doing (or something that has been done to us) holds us back. We are afraid of what we will have to acknowledge when the Light shines in our lives.
It’s this very personal statement that makes me think this passage has been miss-heard and misused for a very long time. There is no mention here of other religions. The passage simply tells us that God loves the cosmos, the whole of creation, and wants to bring it into the Light of God. Those who encounter Christ and walk in the Light go on to live lives that are transformed; their actions are done in God. Those who don’t encounter Christ, there is no condemnation. There are other invitations to the Holy Light. There has to be. And those other invitations do not diminish or limit God’s capacity to love the cosmos.
And, really, we all ought to be more attentive to what we ourselves are doing and why. Are the actions we claim as Christian filled with the light and love of Christ or are they really causing pain or harm to someone or something? Let us all bring our actions into the Light as we journey through the remainder of this Lenten season. Life is far too short and too precious to waste it hiding in the dark or bringing anything other than light into the world.
RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.