March 26, 2006 - Year B - Lent 4

John 3:14-21

14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life. 17 God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through him the world is to be saved. 18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned. He who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God.

19 This is how the Judgment is made: Light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For whoever does wrong hates the light and doesn’t come to the light for fear that his deeds will be shown as evil. 21 But whoever lives according to the truth comes into the light so that it can be clearly seen that his works have been done in God.”

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

• 11. John’s Gospel is different from the other three. Often, after relating some words of Jesus, John adds an explanation of the faith, which he supports with declarations that Jesus made on other occasions. That is what happens in this case.

How can this be? Nicodemus asked. To enter into the life of the Spirit, we need to know God’s plan for us. Yet no one can speak properly of such things except the Son of God. He has seen heavenly things, that is, the intimate life of God; he also speaks of earthly things, that is, of the Kingdom that God brings to us. Many of Jesus’ listeners will not accept what he says about the Reign of God; much less will they pay attention to what he reveals about the mystery of God. Jesus reveals to us that which, by ourselves, we are unable to know. Thus a Christian is not one who merely “believes in God”; we are Christians because we believe the testimony of Jesus (v. 11) regarding God and his plan of salvation.

In this plan, there was something very difficult to accept: that the Son of Man would have to die on the cross and to rise from the dead (be lifted on high means the same). Jesus reminds them of the serpent in the desert. This episode in the Bible (Num 21) prefigured what would hap­pen to Jesus. Of course, the Jews did not grasp the meaning of this message; in fact, they passed over all the predictions of the sufferings of their savior without understanding them.

They had to revise their ideas about other matters, also. The Jews had been praying for God to come and expected him to condemn the world and to punish the bad. He, on the other hand, sent his own Son to the cross so that the world will be saved (v. 17).

Other verses of the New Testament say that we should not love the world; which seems to contradict what we have just read: God so loved the world. The reason for this contradiction is that the word world has several meanings.

First, the world means all of creation, which is good since it is God’s work. The center of this divine work is humankind, which has come under the influence of Satan (8:34 & 44). Everything that sinful humanity creates – riches, culture, social life – is influenced, disfigured and used for evil. Hence, God sent His Son so that the world will be saved.

Yet, even though Christ’s resurrection initiated his invincible power over history, a strong current of evil continues, dragging along all who refuse to acknowledge the truth. This evil current is sometimes called the world. It would be more appropriate to say: the people who surrender themselves to the Master of the world. The Scripture points to them in saying: Do not love the world, or You are not of the world (1 Jn 2:15; 4:6).

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Comments by Wesley

1. Verses 17 and 18 set in play a division that continues to bedevil the church. Is the action (17) located with G*D sending Jesus to save the world? Is the action (18) located with people who somehow or other choose to believe in Jesus? This is a significant part of the struggle between progressive (17) and religious-right (18) Christians.

2. In verse 19 John brings this division in parallel as the state of affairs for all time. G*D is the key actor and people can block that action. Both the above questions are to be answered, "Yes."

3. What then is the expected outcome? Will people forever block G*D's intention of salvation? If we posit a mystery that eventually no one will be able to block the prevenient grace of G*D that will eventually blossom into justifying and sanctifying grace that brings us to holiness, then a better answer is that verse 19 responds chronically rather than kairotically and only the first question can be affirmed. Not even death will be able to keep people from the image of G*D, to partnering with G*D, to being G*D.

No matter how arid the Judean countryside, Jesus didn't need abundant water to baptize for he was living water who baptized (healed and taught), willy-nilly, among those who had chosen against G*D's saving action in their lives. Some caught on quickly in present time, others needed an additional baptismal visit after Jesus' crucifixion and, perhaps, even additional visits.

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