by Bishop Marty Shanahan
It is probably the most notable Scriptural Citation of the 20th and 21st Centuries: John 3:16.
Did you catch it? Or did this translation put a different tone on the text:
John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Inclusive Language Lectionary: John 3.16
Yes, God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One that whoever believes may not die but have eternal life.
But herein lies one of the greatest challenges of our time…
It seems to me that most of my encounters with folks who, as we affectionately refer to them on the street, are “flying this sign”, are often the persons who stand in strict judgment of others, who may act in a different way than their sign states!
While there are challenges in both translations of the Greek text into the English language, neither of these translations are literal. They are both translations of understanding.
The question that we are left to ponder is not a question of linguistic interpretation, but rather a question of meaning, understanding and intent.
The context of this famous quote is the night time invitation of Nicodemus, the Chief Priest of the Jerusalem Temple, who had invited Jesus to his home. In the midst of that encounter, at the questioning of Nicodemus, the Gospel writer of John puts these words on the lips of the Christ.
Most Scripture scholars agree these particular verses are a later redaction of the Gospel – meaning they were verses added by the Johannine community later in the life of that community to help them to understand how God relates to our world.
Therein may lie the crux of this text for us today…
We live in a world that daily, and sometimes minute by minute, is growing smaller and smaller. We live in a world where a meeting in Bali can be live broadcast in Baltimore and reacted to by someone else in Los Angeles all within real time.
It also seems that we live in a world of rather extreme judgementalism. We make, listen to, or participate in flash judgments about situations that we may have little or no intimate or expert knowledge.
I would venture to guess there is not one of us who has not reached some conclusion about the Yanez/Castille court case and the tragedy of that fateful traffic stop?
I would venture to guess that there is not one of us who has not reached some conclusion about the statements of former FBI Director James Comey and the statements of President Donald Trump.
I would venture to guess that there is probably not many who have not come to some conclusion about the tradgedy of Jacob Wetterling and Danny Heinrich.
I believe the core teaching of this text carries three extremely impactful and relevant facts – facts that we still struggle to live today.
First fact: God so loves the world…
Not some of it, not some within it, not some persons and not others, ALL of IT! Me, you, and all the peoples in all the situations which I just named a few seconds ago – all of them – no matter what our own judgements are, regarding them.
Second fact: God sent the Christ, not to condemn, but so that the world may be saved.
Not some of it, not just a certain group, not just the “righteous” or those whom the world calls “Holy”, but the World – and in John’s Gospel – the world means the whole world!
Third fact: The one who believes avoids judgment; the one who does not brings judgment on themselves.
Ultimately, it is tremendously freeing to know – but still a struggle to accept – Judgment is God’s job, not mine or yours, or the courts – ultimately judgment lies in God’s hands. And even then, God in freedom, allows that judgment to be in our own hands. We judge ourselves, by how we are for the world.
So maybe as we are finishing up our “I believe…” statements for our book, we could add a new understanding as well…
I believe judgment belongs to God, and living a loving, faith-filled life belongs to us.
I believe – maybe you do too?
– Bishop Marty