"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
- John 3:16-21
Yesterday, we read that when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Why is the Son given to be "lifted up" on the Cross? It is from love, and love for the whole world. This doesn't leave out anything, this love. It is for the "whole world." It refers back to what was discussed in yesterday's reading: in this sense there is nothing that is left out of the Resurrection. In the tradition of the Church, it is the world that is being transformed, that holds the Resurrection, and that will be changed at the end of the age. In this sense, once again, we have an affirmation that out of the love of God, the whole of the world holds the promise of the Resurrection within it, the true abundance of everlasting life. This is the gift of love that is present to us.
"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." What is faith? It is trusting in the Son, a depth of relationship that allows even participation in the life of Christ. The gift of Christ the Son is a gift of salvation. We are not stuck in our sins, our imperfection, our failures in life. We're here in our faith -- He's here -- to lift us up with Him, to give us this Resurrection, this everlasting life that is present to us and permeates the life of the world by faith. The "condemnation" is the failure to believe as this is the key to grace; the lack of faith leaves one out of the gift of salvation, an inner rejection of the gift.
"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God." This is a very spiritual pronunciation, and a kind of mystery. What is it within us that determines what we love? Jesus seems to be saying there is a basic internal choice very deep within us: do we have a passion for spiritual truth? Or is there something we love better? Light is that truth; darkness is not just its absence, but a kind of covering or obscuring, a signifier of a lack of love of that light.
It's in John's Gospel that Pilate asks, "What is truth?" From the beginning of this Gospel, we are introduced to the Light, and that Light is synonymous with truth. He invites us to understand that the truth about which the Gospel is speaking isn't just a "fact," and it's not just a conclusion. It's more than that. Truth is the light, and it is the Light (note the capital L). In this context, we can say theologically that Truth is a Person, the Person of Christ the Son. If this is too wild to wrap one's head around, we must think of this Person as Logos, Creator, the Word. In this sense, truth is also something, or someone, we love. It goes to the heart of who we are, and asks us the most deep question possible: what do we truly love? It goes to the heart of Jesus' teaching that you cannot serve God and mammon. Ultimately there is a question of priorities. At some point in time, we're asked to make choices. What we understand of the truth, of this light, is that it's not just a nominal belief system, not just an intellectual assent to a set of ideas. This is a much deeper relationship than that. It's not a political party membership card, and it's not just the way we identify ourselves to others. This is about what is deepest in our hearts and where we make our most basic choices. It's about what we truly love. In that sense, this is all about spiritual truth. So many people want to separate "spirituality" from "religion." But what seems to have been forgotten on many levels is that we have religion so that we remember and shore up the truth within ourselves, the spiritual life that always needs nurturing. Religious practices are intended to nurture that spiritual life. The two are meant to go hand in hand, and are not really separate. So let's ask again: what is it you really love? Christ speaks throughout the Gospels of the hypocrisy of those who show outwardly a "spiritual" appearance, but are inwardly something else. What is it, then, that brings our deeds to light, as He speaks about in today's passage? To whose light do we come in order to see ourselves truly? Whose light is it that gives us the way to a better life? And in whose light and overwhelming love are we led to see and know who we are? These are the real questions here, and they all teach us about what we reject when we prefer darkness instead. The uncompromising joy in that light is the unconditional love we may experience that teaches us who we are and asks us to live in that truth and bear its fruit. How can we say "no" to that? This is where Jesus teaches us about what we love the most, after all.