‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
We're 26 days into our reflections for Lent on the theme of Love within our Scriptures, yet only just getting to what is the most famous verse in the Christian Scriptures, John 3.16 "For God so loved the world, that they gave the only-begotten son." - a verse held up at football games, and special events, and posted on the side of churches (sometimes just the reference, not even the whole verse - it's so well known).
It's taken a while to get here because there are so many ways in which this verse has been used not to consider the expansive, unlimited, gracious love of God, but to exclude and create barriers of 'right belief' using the words which follow that powerful, profound opening. So much so that 'believing the right thing' has become the core idea of this passage, rather than that statement 'God SO loved the world'.
Belief, in the way it is often understood today, is not, however, the same in the understanding of the writers of John's Gospel - it is more like trusting, or finding something trustworthy or faithful, than it is an intellectual 'yes' to certain doctrine or ways of seeing. Even the word ek translated 'in' has a multiplicity of meanings such as 'of', or 'from', or 'because of'. So the verse could mean 'whosever shares the belief of the Son (Jesus)', or whosever finds the Son trustworthy rather than 'whosoever says yes to certain doctrines about the Son.'
Instead let us allow our focus to rest on the reason behind the Son's teaching and sharing, the love of God. And let us consider how Jesus did that - by welcoming, embracing, encouraging, and calling to account both the outcast, and the insider in the religious world. If we share that way of being and doing, if we call the authorities to account and proclaim justice, if we love the excluded and unloved, then we too are on the way to 'salvation' which is best translated as 'healing, wholeness, completeness."
May our love be so profligate and widespread that we echo the love showed by God, and the love expressed by Jesus.
Prayer Paraphrase of John 3:16
Infinite Love, heart of all life,
you loved this word into being
with such love
as to birth yourself among us,
Love begotten as the Beloved.
Opening ourselves to your love
we live beyond our mortal selves
and join your eternal Oneness.
Your presence does not separate but unites;
love does not push away, but embraces;
you do not condemn, but save.
Trusting this we know
we are loved, never rejected.
When our trust fails we are doomed:
withdrawing into ourselves
we aren't open to love,
the only source of life.