"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."
This is one of the most frequently quoted passages of the Bible. For many believers, simply mentioning “John 3:16” or declaring it on a bumper sticker evokes strong feelings of humility and thankfulness regarding the life and sacrifice of Jesus – especially as that sacrifice was for each one of us as individuals. As we ponder the power of this faith tenet during the Lenten season, I invite us all to challenge ourselves about what the on-going message of Jesus’ sacrifice requires of us since that message is timeless and very much alive and dynamic.
Our Christian faith proclaims we are all children of God. As such, aren’t we bound to practice the same self-sacrifice that Jesus exhibited? It is said that Jesus is the human face of God. If Jesus now lives in each of us, isn’t it true then that we all reflect the face of God and are called to serve each other as Jesus served those around him? This is the simple plea of Pope Francis – that the Church would put aside secular trappings of power and wealth and serve the poor.
There is another powerful declaration in this short phrase that qualifies our service – it must be compassionate. John states that Jesus was not sent to condemn, but to save. The compassion of Jesus is one of the qualities of his ministry most often cited in the Gospels. He reached out to all peoples – even those shunned by society – and he made clear that his healing power was available to all. When we engage in our ministries, is our embrace as free and nonjudgmental as that of Jesus?
Focus on the Four Pillars:
Spirituality: The theologian Philip Sheldrake defines Christian spirituality as “the way our fundamental values, life-styles, and spiritual practices reflect particular understandings of God, human identity, and the material world as the context for human transformation.” One’s spirituality is particular to a time and place and experience of life – an ordering of what is important and how those values reflect an understanding of and relationship with The Divine. The call to model our lives after the sacrificial life of Jesus may challenge us to reorder our priorities. During this Lenten season, perhaps we can spend time thinking about whether the true motivators in our lives – whether those things we hold dear – are truly reflective of the Divine love and compassion with which we, ourselves, have been so blessed.
Social Justice: The concept of social justice flows naturally from John. God’s love for all people is a consistent theme of his gospel and in Chapter 10:10, he quotes Jesus as saying “I have come that they (all people) may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” In our ministries, have we developed a Christian appreciation what it means to “have life” – have we discussed this with our fellow servers? Then, once we have considered that, what does it mean to possess or share this life “more abundantly”? Do we leave room in our hearts for the variety of responses to these questions that God, undoubtedly, treasures?
Simple Living: Loving everyone always seems so daunting to me – especially as I realize my very human flaws in liking some people and disliking others. Where does one begin to tackle this most challenging commandment? I try and consider this – loving means sharing. Each of us is gifted by God in some special way. We have a unique contribution to make to this world and that is why we are here. The gift we are has never walked this earth before and it will never be repeated. My challenge then is to discover that gift and to share it. I believe that the sharing of that gift brings true, heartfelt, inner joy. I believe that feeling that joy helps overcome the pettiness of limiting, human fears and resentments. A heart filled with joy has no room to hate. Simple.
Community: Sometimes it is easier to apply the teachings of Jesus in the broad, abstract way than a particular, concrete one. Make it a regular practice during Lent to check-in with those in your ministry team and ask each other if you have lived the sacrificial example of Jesus and have you done so without judgment?
This reflection is part of our Lenten series - download the entire reflection guide here.