John 3:17-My Favorite Verse!

AX 2nd Sunday following Epiphany

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

John3:16. Which Sunday school child hasn’t heard this verse and likely memorized it? Across many denominations, it is practically on everyone’s lips and assigned to memory. 

This verse, resonating in our ears from today’s gospel lesson, is on one hand perhaps one of the best known, often quoted, most beautiful and meaningful verses in the scriptures yet, if you can take what I’m saying now with a grain of salt, perhaps also one of the most improperly used and maybe misunderstood verses in the Gospels. 

However, rather than being, as was intended, the most beautiful articulation of the life giving gospel, the good news and the most perfect announcement of the anticipated messianic fulfillment for the worlds long awaited salvation, it has unfortunately become at best, in an increasingly secular society driven by social media, a slogan for ballgames and memes and used also at worstas a “hammer”, a verse to be used to club people over the head, implying the hearer is unworthy of God’s love and lacking fellowship in the Kingdom, ostensibly assuming a lack of subjective faith. John the beloved apostle and evangelist inspired by the Holy Spirit and being one who experienced the love, sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, is stating for the whole of Creation rather the summary of the Good News with the marvelous, incomprehensible and objective act of God’s universal reconciliation for the entire creation revealed in the Incarnation of Love in the Birth of God’s Only Son and True God, Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

God didn’t come, nor did he have to come in the flesh to pronounce judgement on the world. He didn’t have to do that at all. The world, from the Fall of Adam and Eve, whose condition all humanity inherits and in which we have been born and live is already under the stain of sin. At sin’s root is the underlying and universal human trait of distrust in God’s love and disobedience to his authority as Creator. There is no one righteous, not even one, (Romans 3:10) as “All have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23),.

Dear faithful, it is wonderful to know and to memorize John 3:16, but also to recognize how equally important the verse which follows it is. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)

The Word of God, the Divine Second and Eternal Person of the Holy Trinity is incarnate precisely because he chose to save and to redeem that which was lost. Mankind has fallen and is cast out of the former glory of paradise and his intimate communion with God. He is exiled from the life-giving enjoyment from the fruit of the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). We as a race, created to be the crown of creation have chosen to love the darkens over the light. Like the Israelites, we have as a species taken our collective and individual eyes off of the light and have turned to darken and forsaken the divine image and the beatific vision having lost our faith through our disobedience.

In listening today to the prophet Isaiah, we heard, the indictment that condemns me, that I am sure everyone listening will take to heart. Let’s hear once again what the prophet says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken falsehood, Your tongue mutters wickedness. No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.” (Isaiah 59:2-4)

If I’m perfectly honest, I must confess before God that I am not righteous, no, not the way God wants. I am a sinner. I cannot  look upon my false perception of righteousness as if God owes me, but instead, like Isaiah, to see all my perceived “righteous acts as but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and that I am in the greatest need of God’s mercy, trusting, yes believing with all my heart that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest” (1 Timothy 1:15). I miss the mark of his perfection. My inclination is to usurp that which God promises by grace and is seen in my innate human aversion to his authority, manifest in the deadly sins I commit both knowingly and unknowingly be it, pride, envy, anger, laziness, covetousness, gluttony or Lust. I don’t have to look only at the world around me to see sin, but I need only to look within. It’s so easy to sit back and view the world from the comfort of our homes, our TVs our iPhones, and to be judgmental of such a world and such depravity. If I were God, I’d knock the world on its behind. How could God love such a world? How can he be so patient? How can he love me? We shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing his long-suffering with tolerance.

Judging others from our false sense of righteousness and to be intolerant of others, expecting them only to measure up to me is a huge problem today and associated with “Identity Politics’. What are identity politics? As a society and as individuals, we are becoming less and less interested in the humanity of others, less tolerant of other’s opinions lifestyles as if others are further from truth and from God than ourselves. We are becoming more interested in knowing where people stand on issues and less about their lives, about how much God loves them and his desire for their salvation. 

This week, I saw “The Two Popes” in Netflix and one thing that caught my attention was when Pope Benedict XVI and then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio were discussing about taking Holy Communion and Pope Benedict asked Cardinal Bergoglio if he should be strict in not allowing Holy Communion to divorcees or other sinners. Cardinal Bergoglio replied, “Holy Communion is not a reward for the virtuous, it is food for the starving.”

God’s love for and his desire for fellowship with you is not dependent on your virtuosity and it’s certainly not on goodness. He doesn’t and won’t respond with love based on any worthiness of our own. It is just the contrary. Yet while we were sinners, God poured out his love and gave us a redeemer and seeks to save us for the sake of Christ.

We now have access to God’s loving and divine sanctifying power as we boldly cry out to him saying Our Father forgive us our trespasses, whereby we approach both with trembling and with faith and receive Holy Communion. 

Pope Francis ushered in Christmas for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics with a message of unconditional love, saying, “God continues to love us all, even the worst of us… You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you.” The Pope made this statement during the Christmas Eve midnight mass. What a beautiful message from Pope Francis.

With my spiritual eyes in repentance and with a contrite heart, God has invited us intofellowship with him, to look within and to ask, am I what he wants me to be? Do I trust him in all conditions? Am I in love with his creation and take loving care of the resources and gifts that he has given to me? Do I love those around me? Do I sow love and compassion or do I judge others and look at myself as just and discount another person’s ideas? Perhaps the most important question is do I see the problems outside of my personal space as being in need of reform, change and reparation or do I look to resolve my own life and allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify my works, words and thoughts? Is my heart broken and do I seek holiness having been called through spiritual rebirth from the font of baptism? Do I aspire to sainthood, and to be conformed not to the world but transformed by Christ(Romans 12:2)?  

Shnorhali

God is Love. He offers himself, body and soul.He is eternal and he is life, yet, he is born, suffers, dies, is risen and now sits at the right hand of his father from whence he will come. His salvation is objectively given for all and received subjectively through faith. In this Gospel reading, we hear the first mention of “eternal life”, where it is again mentioned by John another seventeen times, with fifteen quoted from the lips of Jesus himself. John, inspired by the Holy Spirit states for all mankind, the Gospel in miniature, “that whoever believes in him  should not perish, but have eternal (aionios) life” (zoe), (John 3:15). 

Dear faithful, it is wonderful to know and to memorize John 3:16, but also to recognize how equally important the verse which follows it is. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)

 

The gospel is always and only a proclamation of God’s saving work in his Son, Jesus. It is the Good News which once and for all announces the enduring truth that God loves the world, that he loves me, that he loves you and that he wants to not only share his life and his love with you but wants you to share his love and life with others.  John even ascribes love as a very personal characteristic of God, even and essential attribute, in fact stating in his first Epistle, that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). Through the coming of Jesus, in spite of the darkness, brokenness and death, we know and believe that the World, which as John says, “is condemned already” (John 3:18), not only needs saving, but it is worth saving!!! It was worth the life of Jesus!

Published by

Fr. Shnork Souin

Priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church

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