John 3:14-21 (NRSV) Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
“Jesus’ Judgment is Love”
4th Sunday in Lent (Year B)
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
You may remember that this passage came up in the lectionary last year during Lent, and that we spoke about the very important, but underappreciated John 3:17. God does not want to condemn the world; God wants to save it. Today, we are invited to continue reading through verse 21, and the same theme is explored more thoroughly.
What is Jesus’ relationship to judgment?
We don’t want to say that God is angry and out to get us
God is not mean or cruel; God is good.
But we also don’t want to say that God is okay with everything we do
God is righteous and good, and we just don’t measure up. Our sin makes us self-centered and violent, the opposite of how Jesus lived and how God calls us to live throughout the Bible
How can God be loving but also fair?
The key verse for understanding God’s judgment is verse 19: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus has not come to try to punish us. But even those of us with the best intentions will be offended by God’s generosity and mercy, by God’s goodness and loving-kindness to people who we think don’t deserve it.
Jesus’ Light doesn’t just extend to the self-righteous and proud, but to the meek, mild, and humble. Jesus is good and loving even when we don’t want to be. Jesus loves even our worst enemies. Jesus ignores kings, priests, and governors in favor of poor widows and prostitutes.
And in the face of that Light, most of us prefer the darkness. The judgment is internal. We self-select in or out of God’s Light because it either draws us in or repels us. And it takes a certain humility to be drawn to this kind of Jesus. We can put up barriers in our hearts that prevent us from seeing him face to face, and that is the judgment.
It’s not that God wants to punish anyone. It’s just that God cannot and will not lower the standards of holiness to accommodate the proud. God is willing to forgive and God will forgive the worst of sinners, but only if we want to be forgiven. God honors human dignity and human free will too much to force us to do anything we don’t want to do.
In short, Jesus’ judgment is not like a mean, old judge sitting behind a bench with a gavel. Jesus’ judgment is Love! God is Love and everything God does is Love. If we want true, unconditional love, we’ll be attracted to Jesus. But if deep down, we want to hold on to our biases, prejudices, pleasures, and possessions, then God will let us... and that might feel like punishment.
Jesus’ love is so strong and so scandalous that it is willing to suffer for the sake of others. He is willing to absorb all our poison in order to heal us, just like the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness. But we must choose to look Jesus in the eye and receive that grace and mercy.
There is a very pretty song by Lisa and Michael Gungor (a Christian musical duo who perform under the moniker Gungor) that gets at this idea. (See the video above)
“Us For Them” by Gungor (excerpt)
See the face of Christ See the mercy in His eyes Every valley shall be lifted high Now our enemies are blessed The heavy laden rest For His judgment is love His judgment is love