Lenten Devotion: A Listening Way for God's Love
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Familiarity can produce a sense of comfort and security, or possibly a lack of curiosity, even apathy. Such is the situation for me in the case of the Biblical text John 3:14-21 with its iconic verse, John 3:16, likely the most misunderstood Scripture text in the modern era. While this verse offered a message of assurance for me as a child coming into faith with wide eyes and an open heart – “for God so loved the world,” and this includes me – as an adult, I grew weary of seeing the John 3:16 signs near the goalposts of football games.
Such cultural familiarity resulted in trivializing both this Scripture and the faith that such placards seemed to represent. While I held onto God’s love for me, the football-game John 3:16 placards sent me on a journey to listen to the text more closely. What did this text mean to its original hearers or readers? What might it mean to us now? It seemed that over the years the God-loving-the-world message had been eclipsed by another message, the threat of hell and a particular plan of salvation. This plan was individualistic, not communal; and it was pious, based upon a formula of one’s own self-named righteousness. Now, it also seems to me white, male, straight, and American.
Gail R. O’Day suggests in the Women’s Bible Commentary that the Gospel of John offers “the reader of the Gospel the opportunity to discover Jesus for himself or herself.” She says that “the formative issue for the Gospel of John is ‘Who Is Jesus?’” Within the Gospel of John, Christ is the light of the world, the Son of Man, the lamb of God, the King of Israel, the Bread of Life, the true vine, the good shepherd, and the way, truth, and life. In John 3:17, Christ is God’s Son sent into the world which references incarnation – God’s love coming to us in the form of humanity to show us the way. God with us.
The way to listen to this particular, overly familiar, culturally-noisy Scripture text was to search for a trusted interpreter. I found that trusted interpreter in Marcus Borg. From his book, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored, he offers an understanding of John 3:14-21 that allows the message of God’s love for all the world to radiate from the text.
Marcus Borg offers insight into the real meaning of John 3:16 in this two minute video: http://www.beliefnet.com/video/preachers-and-teachers/christianity/marcus-borg/marcus-borg-the-real-meaning-of-john-316.aspx
Listening to this text beyond the cultural misreading of it in our era, and hearing it again as if for the first time from Marcus Borg, helps me recall the comforting childhood feelings of the assurance of God’s love – of God loving the whole world… no one is outside of God’s love, including me.
Dr. Michael J. Adee
Partner, Global Faith and Justice Project
Center for Innovation in Ministry