By: Fr Christopher Maseko
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“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.” In the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, God declared that he was well pleased with him because he intended to use him to play a significant role in winning back the whole of humanity that had strayed away from him. This aspect of being well pleased with his son demonstrates the undying love God has for those who would be followers of Jesus. The same is true of our parents when we are brought in this world, they are, of course, well pleased more so, if we are obedient to them. Our obedience will, inevitably have a positive impact on our parents and family at large. Many would even wish to have been members of this family.
As our parents love us, so does God. He is pleased with us so long as we follow and obey his will by showing our faith in Jesus. By so doing we shall be on the right track to attain eternal life. However, that is not a stroll in the park as that involves a certain amount of sacrifice on our part that is, denying ourselves. Such is the paradox of following Jesus Christ: strength arising out of complete defeat and weakness, the loss of one’s old life as condition for finding a new one. When we accept pain as part of the growing experience of life in Jesus, we realize a greater happiness; when we look at our dark side, we are brought into new light; when we accept vulnerabilities and surrender to God, we are graced with unforeseen strength. It is through the cross that we shall conquer at the end because Jesus won the salvation through the cross.
The Sundays of Lent help us to prepare ourselves for celebrating with deeper understanding. In the Gospel we hear the message of God’s boundless generosity. We hear the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. There we read the word: God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. This message of boundless generosity should not be taken for granted. For example, we know that we cannot take it for granted that all parents love their children. Maybe do not! Similarly, we cannot assume that our best friends would die for us if need should arise. And yet! God does.
The Old Testament recounts many episodes that took place during the forty years Israel spent in the desert, after their Exodus from Egypt and before they entered the promised land. The chosen people were attacked by poisonous snakes, as punishment for their unfaithfulness, and were only saved from death by God’s intervention through Moses. God tells Moses to lift up a bronze image of a serpent, and everyone who looks the serpent is healed.
Jesus uses the image of Moses and the bronze serpent to foreshadow his own death, when he will be “lifted up” on the crossbeam of wood. The crucifixion is presented as the means of healing for all who see it in faith. In the Gospel, John is careful to present the universal scope of God’s saving love. Salvation is not intended for only a few. Eternal life and the healing of the wounds of sin are gifts offered to all people. They are offered through the Son of God, out of God’s deep and abiding love. This passage should set to rest any fears that God may be like a ‘hanging judge’ who shakes a finger at us from heaven and sends Jesus down to condemn us for our sins. Instead God is so much in love with us that he hands over his son to ransom all people from bondage to sin and death.
God’s love in Christ is unconditional, but a free response is needed for the gift to be received. The sad part of it, is that people can decide to look away from the truth of God’s love and choose evil over good. Thus, we are left to consider what choice we will make. Do we remain in the gloom of night, or will we choose to come into the light of goodness, truth and faith? What is my image of God? Do I have trouble believing that God loves all the people of the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or way of life? In what way do I have difficulty believing that God loves me, regardless of my past or present sinfulness? What we shall experience at Easter is exactly that: God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son. Even if we crucify him, Christ will keep on loving us and inviting us to believe in him.
This is the appropriate response we can make to such a gift: we must believe in the transforming power of accepting the Son into our lives by believing in his mission and giving our lives to him in return. There is no other way to salvation than through the Son. We must know, believe, accept and embrace the truth. Father, may we be open to you fully and to the perfect gift of Jesus in our life.