The Son was sent, and so are we
By Fr Donald Chambers
“For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, whosoever believes should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
In this frequently quoted scripture passage, the words and phrase “loved”, “sent” and “eternal life” instantly strike me.
Contemplating the word ‘love’, I think of two powerful scripture metaphors, the sun, and the rain that Jesus cleverly employs to communicate Yahweh’s unconditional and non-discriminatory self-giving love.
Jesus says, “He causes His sun to rise on the wicked and the good, and He makes it rain on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45).
When I ponder the word ‘sent’, I think of an emissary, an ambassador or a messenger who is commissioned to deliver not his or her personal message or agenda, but that of the sender whom they represent (2 Cor 5:20).
Further, when considering the phrase ‘eternal life’, I interpret the definition of the word ‘eternal’ to mean lasting or existing forever. This phrase ‘eternal life’ seems to point not to a life in a world to come, but a life that currently exists and is unending.
In sum, the message is that the intended action of God’s loving and sending of Jesus is eternal life, similar to the actions of parents towards their children with the intention to facilitate a particular experience or encounter in their lives.
However, I questioned myself, why would John, after 50 years had passed, pull these uniquely powerful words from the oral tradition of Jesus, and include in this gospel?
I immediately thought that, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best and worst, the good and bad, and the joys and sufferings in the world, families and societies, so too was John’s community encountering a similar ‘weed and wheat’ phenomena.
In the Christian period of the 50s, the community experienced the ‘world’ within which they lived as a good place in need of reform. However, by the 80s their experience and perception of the ‘world’ shifted as a result of the excommunication of the Christians from the synagogues, as they were accused of burning down the Jewish Temple. Eventually, they saw a resistant and unbelieving world consisting of hostile and disbelieving Jews (Jn 5-12).
Given this new hostile historical development, we can understand why John utilised Jesus’ words, “. . . God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, whosoever believes should not perish but have eternal life,” in order to exhort and to teach the community.
Undergoing a similar VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) climate just as we are today, they needed to be comforted, consoled, and reminded of God’s indiscriminate and unconditional love that He sent the Son to reveal through His words and actions.
Further, John discerned that God’s loving self-revelation in the Son occurs in a double-movement. In the first movement, God’s overwhelming love bursts open in His only begotten Son whom He sent into a hostile and cruel world.
In the second movement, the Church responds to God’s love by believing, and in this belief the Church, through the Holy Spirit, receives the gift of ‘eternal life’.
This gift is not life after death, but it is to enter and see the Kingdom of God as already alive in this world which is full of discomfort. The consequence of this new life in the Spirit is the laying down of our lives for one another just as Jesus did.
Manifestations of this ‘eternal life,’ that comes from being born again (Jn 3:4–5) and is evident in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy which are undertaken by the Church.
Just as the Father sent the Son to offer eternal life to a hostile and cruel world, so too does Jesus Christ send the Church as a gift to the world to demonstrate eternal life, particularly during this pandemic.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church encounters and embraces God’s unconditional love through the Son, and now relies on the Holy Spirit, who “enkindles and enlivens the Church’s mission” (Pope Francis), to be witness of this awesome and powerful gift of eternal life.
The gospel meditations for June are by
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica who currently serves as the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference Secretariat, St Clair.