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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: March 15, 2015
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during confirmation Masses at St. John Church in Russellville on Saturday, March 14, 2015, and Mary Mother of God Church in Harrison on Sunday, March 15, 2015.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (John 3:16)
We just heard this in today's Gospel and we see this on banners at football games, though usually just the citation — John 3:16. And rightly so, because this single verse reminds us that the heart of the Gospel is God's love and our belief. But there's more to today's Gospel than that.
What we have here is Nicodemus, who was a member of the social class that as a group most opposed Jesus, but who finds himself drawn to Jesus and so meets with him secretly in order to avoid trouble ... and who later becomes a committed disciple and courageous defender of Jesus. Maybe some of you are like that: you feel drawn to Jesus despite the fact that you are surrounded by people who don't share your beliefs and you fear that they might make you feel uncomfortable if you share your faith openly with them — you may even fear they will think less of you or make fun of you.
Notice that when Jesus says that the Son of God is light for the world, he's talking about judging the world, not just making things bright and sunny.
Well in the case of his dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus uses all sorts of images to make three basic points: 1.) the necessity of being born again in order to live a new life in the Spirit; 2.) the sacrifice of Jesus which brings salvation to believers; and 3.) God's immense love for the world, which he expresses by giving us his Son and to which the only appropriate response is for us to now love others as Jesus does, becoming ourselves channels of God's love for the world.
Notice that when Jesus says that the Son of God is light for the world, he's talking about judging the world, not just making things bright and sunny. He's talking about bringing to light things that we're ashamed of and want to keep hidden. And yet his purpose is not to condemn the world, but rather to set things right because if nothing changes, all will indeed be lost. God has intervened out of love ("God so loved the world") and by responding to that love, by aligning ourselves with God and his way of doing things ("whoever believes in him") we are saved who otherwise would be headed to perdition.
The two operative concepts are God's love and our belief. Love is God's very nature and it should be our nature too since we were created in the image and likeness of God, but unfortunately our nature has been broken by sin. Hence the importance of belief.
When Jesus says "whoever believes" he's not talking about merely the acceptance of a series of correctly articulated dogmas like we find in the Creed or the catechism, though these are helpful. But what Jesus is really talking about is where our heart is, how we live our lives, our will conformed to God's will, basing every decision on the answer to the question, "what would Jesus do?" because it is in him that we have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."