Our planet earth looks blue and beautiful from outer space. It’s the world we know. It’s our living space. Populated by billions of people of different colors, sizes, shapes, languages, ways of living. A place where we find breathtaking beauty, but also immensely destructive forces, arising out of nature or, sometimes, of our own making. A place where we encounter growth and decay, predators and prey, where we experience life and death. A place where we see the stubborn will of all creation to live – but it is also a place where we experience the forces of constant destruction at the same time. All in all, the world is a place where the snake has found entrance into the Garden Eden, a place where we still see God’s marvelous work – yet it is a place that has been corrupted somehow – and, as people of faith, we say that the world has been corrupted by the forces of sin and evil.
You just need to open the daily newspaper or online news or turn on the TV to see what I mean. Disturbed people going on shooting rampages. National and international political tensions. The abuse of women and children in many parts of this world. Climate change and its consequences for man and beast and plant life. Hate crimes not too far from our own neighborhoods. The list seems endless. There is so much suffering, so much misery.
In the Gospel according to John, from which today’s gospel lesson is taken, we find quite a few passages in which John describes “the world” as this corrupted place, a place inhabited by people who are estranged from God and thus misled, misguided onto the paths of destruction and death. If you want a quick reference, just go to the first chapter of John, the so-called Epilogue of John: the light was sent into the world, but the world did not recognize it, which is, the world did not recognize Jesus. That’s why the world killed him.
On the other hand, it is this same world which God loves with desperation, sin and evil and corruption and all. We probably have all heard the words from John 3:16, “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.” And John goes on, “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.”
If you think about it, this is quite amazing and quite radical: Christ didn’t come into this corrupted, blind, violent world to condemn, but to save. Let that sink in for a moment.
This is the essence of the Gospel. Martin Luther even went so far as to say, this is the Gospel in miniature. Jesus did not come to condemn and threaten us with the tortures of hell. Jesus came to love and heal and mend. Jesus came to save. By the way, the Greek word for “saving”, “zotso”, foremost means healing. Jesus came to heal the distorted relationship between “the world” and God. This is the essence of God’s saving grace. And this allows us to speak less of “saving” unbelievers than of healing the division between them and God — often just by demonstrating that we ourselves are in need of healing, that we are in the ongoing process of being healed.
I mean, every Sunday we come to God and confess our sin – we confess that we are in some sort of process, something that is never completed as we live our life here on earth. That we continue to be healed and reconciled with God and neighbor.
Maybe this is what we need to be reminded of: that it’s not just about God saving certain folks once and for all and condemning others at the same time. It is good and comforting, it is healing to know that God so loved you and me that God sent the Son. But if we assumed just that and thought that God loves us more than other folks out there, we’d be haughty and wrong. God so loved the whole beautiful, corrupted world, that Jesus came into the world to heal whatever is broken in this world. And that included me and you.
This beckons the question how we evangelize, how we spread the good news of God’s love for all. Just telling someone that they need to be saved lest they end up in hell and that they need to have a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior may not be enough – in fact, in is quite off-putting to many. But just think about what it would mean to help with the healing process Jesus is talking about: to be with people in their sorrows, in their pain, in their troubles. To approach people in a non-judgmental way and just see them as children of God, created wonderfully and beautifully, and just share the love we’ve received so overabundantly and undeservedly by God. To come to them as an equal – just a human being in need of God’s love and grace – and not as a superior. My hunch is that this approach is much more effective and authentic in convincing people that there is a loving God than just to throw phrases at someone we regard as lost.
Now today’s Gospel is somewhat taken out of context. This whole reflection on God’s love for the world is part of a discussion Jesus has with Nicodemus, the old Pharisee and teacher who comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness. Nicodemus represents the old teachings, the old system, but he is curious about the teachings of this Jesus and wants to know more. So Jesus replies that his teachings can only be understood by the ones who are born again, born in the Spirit, in short, by those who are given a new existence through and in God. God so loved the world, yes, but this entails a new life, a certain change, a certain turn-around of our lives. It is wonderful to be given a new life, this precious gift; but living on as if this life was the same old, same old would be like not using the gift, but leaving it wrapped in a corner of your closet.
It’s about love that changes everything. The gospels talk about this radical and transformative love over and over. God’s wondrous love – especially as it is expressed by the giving of the Son, the death of God’s son on the cross – would be a waste if this love didn’t transform us, and the world, somehow. After all, for God so loved that world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but 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.
Jesus didn’t come into this world in order to suffer and die for us and to give us a blank check, well, I did this for you, just go on withholding your love, go on destroying the world I created and the relationships entrusted to you, go on being indifferent to injustice and violence as long as it doesn’t affect you, no – Jesus talks about the saving and healing of the world.
And, as we all know, the world is anything but healed yet. Jesus Christ, indeed, started the process – but we, as the body of Christ today, are called to continue this work of healing, with the help and by the grace of God. And, hopefully, we live with such integrity, that others will see our good works that God demands from us, as we are reborn in Christ – hopefully, others will get a glimpse of God’s wonderfully created world, as it is already realized here and there – and understand about the amazing and wonderful world yet to come.
Hopefully all the world will realize that love – God’s love, our love – is the answer to all the issues we struggle with in our existence in this one and only world we know.
Picture: Public domain
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