John 3:16 ~ Let’s make it new in our lives today!

The Fourth Sunday of Lent March 14, 2021

Today’s readings are a reflection on God’s generosity, God’s forgiveness, God’s constant, loving care of his people.

The first reading from Chronicles outlines the infidelity, the sins of  Judah and even the priests; they polluted the temple.

But early and often did God send messengers and prophets to try to get them to turn from their evil ways.  Then they were carried off in captivity to Babylon.

But even then the Lord had mercy.  A new King came to Persia—Cyrus—and he let the Jewish people return to their homes and actually helped them rebuild their temple.

The message of the reading is renewal and forgiveness.  God will continue making loving, merciful overtures toward sinners early and often in our own time—toward those who are responsible for the evil the world is presently experiencing—toward those who cooperate in that evil, he will bring to justice.

We realize that God has made the ultimate overture in Jesus, incarnate, crucified and risen, in victory over sin and death.

In today’s Gospel from John 3: 14-21—our Scripture Scholar-friend William Barclay tell us that John goes back to a strange story in Numbers 21:4-9.  On their journey through the wilderness the people murmured and complained and regretted that they had left Egypt. To punish them God sent them a plague of deadly fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and told them to hold it up and those who looked at it would be healed.

John took the old story and used it as a kind of parable for Jesus. He says in today’s Gospel, “The serpent was lifted up; men looked at; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of that God in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so Jesus must be lifted up; and when people turn their thoughts to him, and believe in him, they too will find eternal life.”

Barclay goes on—there’s a wonderful suggestive thing here: The verb to lift up is hupsuon. The strange thing is that it’s used of Jesus in two senses. It’s used of his being lifted up upon the Cross; and it’s used of his being lifted up into glory at the time of his ascension into heaven. It’s also used in Philippians 2:9.  The lifting on the Cross and the lifting into glory are inextricably connected.  It’s an unalterable law of life that if there’s no cross, there’s no crown.

In this opening sentence, there’s the phrase believes in Jesus.  Barclay suggests it means at least three things . . . .

First, it means believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us; that God cares for us and wants nothing more than to forgive us.

It was not easy for a Jew to believe that. Jewish people looked on God as one who imposed laws upon their people and punished them if they broke them. They looked on God as a judge and on man as a criminal at his judgment seat. (In fact, I have known Catholics who have thought the same way! That they were going to hell for the even small peccadillos. I knew a lady once who thought her flatulence was a sin!) Jewish people looked on God as one who demanded sacrifices and offerings.

Second, how can we be sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about? What guarantee is there that this wonderful good news is true? We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that in him is the mind of God, that he knew God so well, was so close to God, was so one with God that he could tell us the absolute truth about him.

And Third, we believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and whatever he says about God is true. We must stake everything on the fact that what Jesus say is true and that whatever he commands we must do. When he tells us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God unreservedly that we must do so.

The second phrase is eternal life.  We have already seen that eternal life is the very life of God himself.

So, if we possess eternal life, what do we have

First, we have the peace of God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical judge. We are at home with our Father.

Second, it gives us peace with our fellow human beings. If we have been forgiven, we must be forgiving. It enables us to see others as God sees them. We become one human family.

Third, it gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good.  This is a friendly universe!

Fourth, it gives us peace with ourselves. We are most afraid of what’s inside of us than anything else, it seems. We know our weaknesses, the force of our temptations, the tasks and demands of our own life. But now we know we are facing them with God and with his Son Jesus.

And finally, it makes us certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace that is to come.

And so we come to probably the most quoted scripture passage in the world—John 3:16 in today’s gospel.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life.

All great men have had their favorite texts, but this has been called “Everybody’s text.”  It contains the essence of the gospel. Barclay says it tells us certain great things . . . .

First, it tell us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God.  Sometimes preachers draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle loving Jesus.  But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son and he sent him because he loved humankind.

Second, it tells us that the root of God’s being is love. It’s easy to think of God as looking at us humans in our disobedience and rebellion and saying: “I’ll break them: I’ll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back as in the Old Testament. It’s easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of his subjects to satisfy his own desire for power.  The tremendous thing about this text is it shows us God acting not for his own sake, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring the universe to heal, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch, (as many despotic governmental rulers today are) who treats each person as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not batter or bully them into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.

Third, it tells of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved.  It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the person who loves God and the one who never thinks of God, the person who rests in the love of God and the one who spurns it—all are included in this vast inclusive love of God.  As Augustine put it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”

God sent his Son not just to make judgments about our world, but to save it from itself. 

If God is the father of us all, if God created and sustains us in our virtues and our vices, if God claims us as his own, makes his home in our hearts and sends his natural Son to live with us, then God is somehow responsible for us.  Don’t flinch from that fact.  God is somehow enmeshed in our sins.  Not by personal guilt, but by blood relationship.

So the Father and the Son mutually agreed that the Son would accept responsibility for all the sins of all his people. 

For the rest of Lent let us contemplate what God has done for us in Jesus, for . . . .

GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON, SO THAT EVERY ONE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM MIGHT NOT PERISH BUT MIGHT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE!

And now before you go here’s a hymn for you “Remember your love” Click here

And if you’d like to reflect on this Sunday’s scriptures Click here

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

Barclay: the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John–Volume1 Revised Edition / The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 134-140.

God so loved the world . . . (John 3:16) Do you believe?

The Fourth Sunday of Lent 2018 

We’re half-way through Lent now and traditional this is known as Laetare Sunday ~ Laetare in Latin, meaning “Rejoice!”  However, today’s readings don’t seem to have that kind of flavor.

The Responsorial Psalm has us sing: “Let my tongue be silenced if ever I forget you, Zion!”

The priests’ and deacon’s vestments’ and perhaps the sanctuary decoration probably will be of a rose color, rather than that of violet or purple for the rest of Lent.

But today’s readings are a reflection on God’s generosity, God’s forgiveness. God’s constant, loving care of his people.

The first reading from Chronicles 36:14-23 outlines the infidelity, the sins of Judah and even the priests; they polluted the temple.

But early and often did God send messengers and prophets to try to get them to turn from their evil ways. Then they were carried off in captivity to Babylon.

But even then the Lord had mercy. A new King came to Persia—Cyrus—and he let the Jewish people return to their homes and actually helped them rebuild their temple.

The message of this first reading is renewal and forgiveness. God will continue making loving, merciful overtures toward sinners early and often in our own time—toward those who are responsible for the evil the world is presently experiencing—toward those who cooperate in that evil in the hope of metanoia ~ real change of mind and heart.

We realize that God has made the ultimate overture in Jesus, incarnate, crucified and risen, in victory over sin and death.

In the Gospel from John 3: 14-21—our Scripture Scholar-friend William Barclay tell us that John goes back to a strange story in Numbers 21:4-9. On their journey through the wilderness the people murmured and complained and regretted that they had left Egypt. To punish them God sent them a plague of deadly fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and to hold it up and those who looked at it would be healed.

John took the old story and used it as a kind of parable for Jesus. He says, “The serpent was lifted up; men looked at; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of that God in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so Jesus must be lifted up; and when people turn their thoughts to him, and believe in him, they too will find eternal life.”

Barclay goes on—there’s a wonderful suggestive thing here: The verb to lift up is hupsuon. The strange thing is that it’s used of Jesus in two senses. It’s used of his being lifted up upon the Cross; and it’s used of his being lifted up into glory at the time of his ascension into heaven. It’s also used in Philippians 2:9. The lifting on the Cross and the lifting into glory are inextricably connected. It’s an unalterable law of life that if there’s no cross, there’s no crown.

In this opening sentence of today’s gospel, there’s the phrase “believes in Jesus.” Barclay suggests it means at least three things . . .

First. It means believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us, that God cares for us and wants nothing more than to forgive us.

It was not easy for a Jew to believe that. Jewish people looked on God as one who imposed laws upon their people and punished them if they broke them. They looked on God as a judge and on man as a criminal at his judgment seat. (In fact, I have known Catholics who have thought the same way! That they were going to hell for the even small peccadillos. I knew a lady once who thought her flatulence was a sin!) Jewish people looked on God as one who demanded sacrifices and offerings.

Second. How can we be sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about? What guarantee is there that this wonderful good news is true? We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he knew God so well, was so close to God, was so one with God that he could tell us the absolute truth about him.

And Third. We believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and whatever he says about God is true. We must stake everything on the fact that what Jesus say is true and that whatever he commands we must do. When he tell us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God unreservedly that we must do.

The second phrase is eternal life. We have already seen that eternal life is the very life of God himself. So, if we possess eternal life, what do we have?

First, we have the peace of God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical judge. We are at home with our Father.

Second, it gives us peace with our fellow human beings. If we have been forgiven, we must be forgiving. It enables us to see others as God sees them. We become on human family.

Third, it gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good. This a friendly universe!

Fourth, it gives us peace with ourselves. We are most afraid of what’s inside of us than anything else, it seems. We know our weaknesses, the force of our temptations, the tasks and demands of our own life. But now we know we are facing them with God and with his Son Jesus.

And finally, it makes us certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace that is to come.

And so we come to probably the most quoted scripture passage in the world—John 3:16 in today’s gospel.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life.

All great men have had their favorite texts, but this has been called “Everybody’s text.” It contains the essence of the gospel. Barclay says it tells us certain great things . . . .

First. It tell us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes preachers draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle loving Jesus. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son and he sent him because he loved humankind.

Second. It tells us that the root of God’s being is love. It’s easy to think of God as looking at us humans in our disobedience and rebellion and saying: “I’ll break them: I’ll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back as in the Old Testament. It’s easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of his subjects to satisfy his own desire for power. The tremendous thing about this text is it shows us God acting not for his own sake, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring the universe to heal, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch, (as many despotic government rulers today are) who treats each person as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not batter or bully them into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.

Third. It tells of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the person who loves God and the one who never thinks of God, the person who rests in the love of God and the one who spurns it—all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine put it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”

And now before you go, here’s a hymn sung in many churches that extols God’s love for us. Click here..

 And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here. 

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – volume 1  revised edition /                                                   Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975 /pp.134-138.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent ~ Lost in the Wonder of God’s Love ~ the story of the prodigal son

The Fourth Sunday of Lent ~ Laetare Sunday ~

The sunday of joy halfway through Lent.  the color of the vestments is rose rather than violet ~ a little more festive.

Today’s Gospel is the Story of the Prodigal Son. It’s been called the greatest short story in the world.

By way of introduction to the story of the Prodigal son, our scripture scholar William Barclay tells us it was an offense to the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus associated with men and women who the orthodox labeled as sinners. The Pharisees gave the people who didn’t keep the law called them the People of the Land, and there was a complete barrier between the Pharisees and these people. The regulations were: not to entrust no money to these people, take no testimony, trust no secret to them, don’t appoint them a guardian of an orphan, don’t accompany them on a journey. A Pharisee was forbidden to be a guest at such a person’s house or have them as a guest. A Pharisee was forbidden so far as possible to do business with such people. It was a deliberate their aim to avoid every contact with such people who were not only outsiders but sinners. Contact with them would necessarily defile. The strict Jew said not, “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,”, but “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God. They looked forward not to the saving but to the destruction of the sinner. (Think of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11.).  (We’ll see how this applies in the in the second part of the story.)

Under Jewish law a father was not free leave his property as he liked. The elder son must get two-thirds and the younger one-third (Dt. 21:17). It was unusual for a father to distribute his estate before he died.  And there’s a kind of heartless callousness in the request of the younger son. He said in effect, “Gimme the part of the estate I’ll get it anyway when you’re dead, and get outta here.”

The father didn’t argue. He knew his son had to learn from the hard knocks of life, and he granted the request. Without delay, the son collected his share of the property and left home.

He soon ran through the money; and he wound up feeding pigs, a task forbidden to a Jew because the law said, “Cursed is he who feeds swine.”

So the son decided to come home and plead to be taken back not as a son but in the lowest rank of the slaves, the hired servants, the men who were day laborers.

He came home, and his father never gave him a chance to ask to be a servant. He broke in before that and gave him a robe that stands for honor and a ring for authority. If a man gave his signet ring to another it was the same as giving him power of attorney. And shoes for a son as opposed to a slave, for children of a family wore shoes but slaves did not.(The slaves dream in the words of the spiritual—when ‘all God’s chillun got shoes’, for shoes were a sign of freedom.)

Barclay makes several points about Jesus’ famous parable . . . .

(1) It should never have been called the parable of the prodigal son, for the son is not the hero. It should be called the parable of the loving father, for it tells us of about the father’s love, than a son’s sin.

(2) It tells us a great deal about the forgiveness of God. The father must have been watching and waiting for the son for the son to come home for saw him a long way off. When he came, he forgave him, with no recriminations.

When forgiveness is as a favor—that’s not real forgiveness. It’s even worse when someone is forgiven but always by hint or word or threat the sin is held over the person.

Once Abraham Lincoln was asked how he would treat the rebellious southerners when they were defeated and finally returned to the Union. His answer: “I will treat them as if they had never had been away.”

But this isn’t the end of the story.

Then enters the elder son who was actually sorry that his brother had come. He stands for the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved.

Barclay points out . . . .

(1) His attitude shows that his years of obedience to his father had been years of grim duty and not loving service.

(2) He has absolutely no sympathy for his brother. He refers to one returned home not as my brother, but as your son. He was the kind of self-righteous character who would gleefully have kicked him farther into the gutter.

(3) He had nasty mind. There’s no mention of harlots until he mentions them. He probably suspected his brother of the sins he would have liked to have committed.

Barclay concludes with this . . . .

“Once again we have the amazing truth that it is easier to confess to God than to another person; that God is more merciful in his judgments than many orthodox people, that God’s love is far broader than human love; and that God can forgive when we refuse to forgive. 

In the face of a love like that we cannot be but lost in wonder, love and praise!”

So, as you can see our Lenten journey fills us with the joy of God’s love for us. Pope Francis is fond of saying “mercy upon mercy upon mercy.”Yet, there is no story of Jesus ~ none in the entire Bible more poignant, more revealing of God’s love, God’s mercy towards us than the story of ~ not the Prodigal son, but the Prodigal Father!

Do you know what the word prodigal means?  It means, according to my trusty “Synonym Finder” ~ wasteful, squandering, extravagant, excessive, generous, open-handed, abundant, plentiful, bounteous, lavish, exuberant, measureless, bottomless, limitless, overflowing. 

That, dear friends, is what Jesus was trying to tell us in his most famous parable about who his Father wants to be for YOU and ME! 

This morning in prayer, I  caught myself realizing that my relationship with the Father fell short. I wasn’t even sure I loved him! Then I got to thinking that my relationship with my own father was always obscure too. And I felt really sad for a while. I know. I know I love God. And I know he loves me. But I had that moment of obscurity. But there’s still the wonder and the love.

Now, before you go, here’s a beautiful hymn with a slide show to fit our theme, There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. (I invite you to listen to it a second time; the words are amazing. Get Lost in the Wonder of God’s Mercy and Love!

And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.

Acknowledgement: William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke /John Knox Press / Louisville KY 1975 – 2001 – pp. 236-7; 242-5.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer