Friday, April 24, 2009

The "Other" John 3:16

Every sports fans knows "of" John 3:16. Every Christian (at least) knows what it says: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. That is the core of St John the Evangelist's gospel, a purpose he restates in chapter 20: these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.

That is a message reiterated by virtually every "small e" evangelist in the last two thousand years. The life of that message is undiminished by time. But it may get diminished when reduced to alphanumeric shorthand. Or when we focus, without context, on the magnificent thing God has done without absorbing what it calls on us to do and to be.

By a wonderful coincidence, John's letter provides a complementary and amplifying enjoinder. The third chapter, sixteenth verse says:

"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another."

Believing is not in what we write or speak. It is action. It is in love, the kind of love that Jesus showed and which John calls on believers to show--in "laying down one's life."

What does that look like? It could be, in the most extreme instance, the ultimate sacrifice. But I don't think that's what John intends as a matter of regular, daily demonstration of love. I think he intends that we love sacrificially by putting the needs of our brothers and sisters foremost in mind. That most certainly includes providing, when we are able, for the human and humane needs of those we see who need them.

I should ask myself each day: am I laying down my life for those who are in need? Am I thinking of others when I walk into a store and fill my cart? When I go out to eat? When I take a vacation?

If I'm being honest with myself, I acknowledge that I could be doing more, a lot more, to love sacrificially, to lay down my life daily. But that is what love is and what true love does.

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