God So Loved The World This passage contains what is possibly one of the most (if not the most) well-known passages of scripture in all of the New Testament. We see it on Bible tracts, jewelry and t-shirts sold at Christian bookstores, and homemade signs at sporting events. Vast numbers of people have heard or read the words of John 3:16. But, I’m not sure that everyone really understands or appreciates what is said in this passage. I think it is important for this passage to be read along with the Ephesians passage. Too often we read this text from John and conclude that if someone believes they receive the gift of grace. But, God’s grace is unconditional. How sad for those who refuse to see the gift that God has given them. Does it mean that God takes the gift back? I don’t think we are supposed to be the judge of that. What God ultimately decides to do is completely up to God. What we are called to do is love God and love one another. There’s no mention of finger-pointing in any of the great commandments. The second part of this Gospel gives the judgment: those are saved who believe in Jesus, live the truth, and come to the light. Those are condemned who do not believe in Jesus, prefer darkness, and do “wicked things.” Our whole life is working out our own verdict. Thank God we are at the mercy of a gracious and forgiving God! The faith/belief mentioned in both the second reading and gospel allude to our self-surrender at baptism which begins a life lived as followers of Christ. Even more: at baptism we are plunged into Christ’s death so that we might rise to new life with him (see Rom 6:5). This dying and rising mystery is the paschal mystery. Through it we are joined to Christ in his work of salvation. The paradox of the paschal mystery is that what we abhor—the cross—becomes the instrument of redemption. God saves the Israelites from death but in the paschal mystery we must embrace death, for the only way to eternal Life is by dying to ourselves, by allowing ourselves to be lifted up like Christ. Our good works (reaching out to others, doing our daily tasks with love and care, acting justly and charitably, etc.), then, are our way of being “lifted up.” This is how we are crucified, so that we might live. This gospel, coming in the middle of Lent (this is traditionally called “Laetare” Sunday), is a reminder of what Lent is truly about and, indeed, what our whole Christian living is about. There are only three weeks of Lent left. Now is the time to renew our resolve to embrace dying to self so that we might truly rise with Christ in joy and Life on Easter.