‘God loved the world so much’
In a very real sense, these six words from this Sunday’s Gospel say more than enough and there is nothing further to be said, nothing more one can add!
While short, today’s excerpt is packed tight, complex and rich in meaning. It contains a summary of John’s Gospel and the opposites or polarities presented in it are found here too: darkness and light; acceptance and rejection; his own and not his own; belief and unbelief (see John 1:1-13). There is much with which one might spend time. But, let’s remain with God’s love.
God so loved the world
Assertions of God’s love echo throughout the Scriptures from their beginning, from the first moments of creation: ‘God saw … it was very good’ (Gen 1:31). In today’s readings, God’s love is very much in focus. From Chronicles, written in the time of exile, we hear that God ‘wished to spare his people’ and ‘tirelessly sent them messenger after messenger’ (2 Chron 36:15). Paul tells the Ephesians that ‘God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy’ (2:4). In the Gospel, John declares that ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son’ (3:16).
In the incarnation of Jesus, God presents people with:
a gift – the possibility of eternal life
an invitation – to believe in Jesus or to refuse to believe and
a consequence – to be saved and to ‘have eternal life’ or to be condemned.
Importantly, this gift is universal – offered to ‘the world’ (3:16, 17), to all. God doesn’t force our response because ‘God so loved’ us – our choice to respond to God’s revelation is freely made and not just once. In every moment, we each choose ongoing openness to the gift of salvation offered us and ongoing commitment to the demands it makes. Some, having once accepted God’s son, later choose the darkness of unbelief and deeds that are evil instead (3:18-20). Regardless of our acceptance or rejection, there is condemnation neither from God nor Jesus. Yet there is judgement and, for some, condemnation. In the choice we make regarding Jesus, the one who reveals ‘heavenly things’ (3:12) and makes present God and the Kingdom in his very person, we cast judgement on ourselves (3:18-19). Judgement and condemnation do not wait for the end times. By our own doing, in the constant here and nows, we make decisions for how we live our life (3:18). Imagine looking back as an older person and seeing how your decisions led to moments of light or darkness, joy or pain. Isn’t our greatest desire to live that was worth living? This is God’s desire too.
Ultimately, this is about love, divine and human. It is about living in friendship with God, about living lovingly now, doing ‘what is true … [with] deeds … done in God’ (3:21), or, as Paul puts it later in today’s letter, living ‘in a manner worthy of the call you have received’ (Eph 4:1). Believing in the gift – in Jesus – and living in response, we are gifted with fulness of life now and eternal life shared with God.
God so loves the world and God so loves you.
God’s love is a wide and universal love, for everyone, everywhere, always. At the same time, God loves individuals, a personal and person‑specific love.
Our response to this love is as individuals. The choice seems obvious. It is as straightforward and as stark as the one Moses puts to the people of Israel: ‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life’ (Deut 30:19). What will you choose?
Remember the God who so loves you!
Sr Eileen O’Connell OP