Homily for 9/25/05 - Sunday B4 the Cross - John 3:16
- John 3:13-17
A portion of today's Gospel is perhaps one of the most well recognized
quotations from the Scripture in our society. We see it on billboards, on
license plates, on bumper stickers, held up on banners at sporting events,
and quoted by every salvation monger on the street. It is almost impossible
that someone who lives in our society today has not heard of "John 3:16".
The popularity of this quote is not surprising, nor is it unfounded for it
tells us of something very important, something profound and remarkable,
something that brings hope and joy to our lives. It tells us that "For God
so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever
believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life".
The very first words of this portion of the Gospel, "For God so loved the
world..." is in itself quite profound. In these words we are told and
reminded that God, the Creator of all things, the only-existing One, Who is
above the heavens, uncontainable and incomprehensible, considers us, His
creation, and loves us. He loves us even though we are of a different and
inferior nature than He. He truly loves us, not as a man loves a pet, but
rather as a parent loves a child or even as a husband loves his wife. This
is in itself a remarkable statement for often when we think of God - even in
today's culture overwhelmed with the self gratifying permissiveness and warm
fuzzies that passes for love - we tend to fear Him rather than love Him. We
tend to think of God either as someone who is so distant that He doesn't
care, or as someone who is bigger and stronger and therefore someone who we
must avoid offending and who is in need of placating. God, as we often
perceive Him, is some great celestial judge who plays favorites and we need
to figure out how to get on His good side. But this false image of God is
wiped away in just the few words - "God so loved the world". He does not
favor just a few, but He loves the whole world. This is confirmed elsewhere
in the Scripture where we are told that God loves all men and desires that
none should perish but that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of
Himself. God loves us - he does not wait for us to do something that makes
us worthy in His sight - He simply loves us without qualification. God
loves us - He is not offended, waiting for a suitable apology, angry and
demanding of servile self deprecation - He loves us as His own child,
opening His arms to us, embracing us. God loves us.
These words also remind us that God does not limit His love to one certain
group of people, one nation, one class, one culture. He loves the world,
the whole world, without exception. He loves all men and desires that none
should perish. He does not limit His love to only those who find favor, who
placate Him, who achieve first some level of righteousness - no, He loves
each of us with that unbounded, unconditional love.
God loves the world so much, in fact that "He gave His only begotten Son."
In these words are encompassed the great truths of the incarnation and our
redemption. God did not send a servant, an angel, an archangel. He did not
send another creature, but He Himself took on human flesh and dwelt among
us. God, the second Person of the Trinity; the Son begotten before all
ages, light of light, true God of true God; the logos, the Word; the
expression of God became as one of us. The Creator of all became as one of
His own creatures, fully man and yet never ceased His divinity and so is
also fully God at the same time. God loves us so much that He Himself came
to us. Not only did He come to dwell among us, but in the course of His
life He gave of Himself completely, living as we live, suffering as we
suffer, even experiencing death as we die. All this He does for a reason,
that we might share in his life, that we might be restored to union and
communion with Him.
"That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life".
This is the purpose of the incarnation, of God's coming to us. God loves us
and wants us to share His life. This is the reason for which we were
created - to share the life of God. This is what was lost in the fall - our
participation in that life. This is what is restored to us in Jesus Christ's
life, death and resurrection - the ability to be reunited with Him. He does
not will that any man should perish but that all might be saved and come to
a knowledge of the Truth. We were created to live within the life of the
Holy Trinity - to share in the life of God Himself. By sin, we have not
only lost that life, but we have also lost our way to finding that life.
God, in His great love, comes to us that we might be restored. He teaches
us, instructs us in the path of salvation. By His life, our Lord Jesus
Christ, shows us the path of salvation. All we have to do is to believe
that He is True, that what He tells us is true and act on that belief by
following Him, by fulfilling the instructions He gives us - not so that He
will love us (because He already does love us) but so that we might love Him
and be joined to Him thus sharing in His life as He originally intended.
Now it is easy to see why this verse among all of scripture is so well
known - in just a few words it proclaims to the world God's love and care
for each and every person from the greatest to the least and describes how
He opens to us the path of salvation. However it is not enough just to
recognize this - we must of course embark on that path; we must of course
live the life that He provides for us; we must acquire the grace that
transforms us and changes us into His likeness. Just as it is not enough
just to hear these words and stop there - it is also necessary to hear the
words of the Gospel that follow this.
"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that
through Him the world might be saved." When we see the greatness and love
of God, when we become aware of His great holiness and His condescension to
us, we are faced with our own unworthiness, our own sinfulness, our own
dirtiness. But this awareness is not given to us to judge us, but rather as
a spur to embark on the path of salvation. God, Whom we are told is an all
consuming fire - upon Whom a man cannot look and remain alive, does not come
to us in the bright hot purity of His essence that we might be consumed.
Rather He comes to us as a man, incarnate, taking on flesh and blood as we
have. He comes to us as one of us that we might touch Him and speak with
Him, and learn from Him without being consumed and burnt by His purity and
holiness. In this we see His mercy, we see His compassion, we see His love
for us. The true purpose of His coming is to enable us to be saved - not to
destroy us, but to restore us to His image and likeness so that we can see
Him and hear Him and touch Him and be united with Him and not be burned or
consumed as a wax melts in the fire or as a piece of wood is burned to ash.
Rather it is His desire that we might become as gold and silver and precious
stones that take the fire into themselves and so shine with its luster and
brightness. This is God's desire for us, that we might be saved, that we
might be united with Him, that we might take Him into ourselves and so burn
and shine with the brightness of His purity and holiness.
God loves us, God comes to us that we might love Him and that we might come
to Him. He does not desire our death and destruction, but rather He desires
that we might be united with Him - that we who are grass might be united
with He Who is fire and behold we are not consumed but bedewed as the bush
of old burned and was not consumed. Such is the great love of God for us,
such is His desire for us - let us then follow Him on the path of salvation
that we might be united with Him, that we might be made one with Him and
share in His life and in His love.