The Eighth Day of Lent this year coincides with St. Patrick’s Day. There is a certain appropriateness to having the text, one of the most frequently quoted in all of the Bible, speaking of the love of God. From John 3:
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
At first glance one might wonder why such a comforting text would be the center of reflection during a season of repentance. Surely the thought that God has provided the means of salvation for me rather than having demanded an impossible task from me is priceless. And on one level, there may continue to be occasions, sometimes of long duration, on which we slide back into thinking that it all depends on us and our doing; such occasions do call us to repentance–not a turning from doing the good deeds, but from allowing ourselves to think they form the basis of our acceptance.
On another level, however, much repentance may be due as we take seriously the verse which follows 3:16. Facetiously, an observer might look at v.17 and translate it something like this: God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world–because He would have plenty of church-going people to take care of that detail. When God saw a world filled with people who rejected Him and one another in favor of their own selfish desires, He loved it; all too often, when we see such a world we scoff at it, lob Bible verses at it, and wish it would just go away so we can get on with out business. Whatever that may be.
St. Patrick was one who understood that the business of Christians is to be sent into such a world as the one which actually exists and to love it, rather than to grumble at the inconvenience it causes us. During a time of great suffering and a heavy dose of defiance on the part of those undergoing the suffering, he responded with love–not a soft love, but a firm love, expensive to himself but given without cost to the recipient. That does, indeed, sound rather like our Father. Our reflection for the day is a continuation of yesterday’s call to see the needs and challenges around us differently. They are not distractions from our purpose; they are why we were sent into the world. I, for one, often wear the wrong prescription glasses. God, forgive.