Reflections on the Readings
The Fourth Sunday of Lent - March18, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins
If That Isn't Love
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16
The late singer and songwriter, Dottie Rambo penned these lyrics; words that capture the depth of John 3:16:
He left the splendor of heaven
Knowing His destiny
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha,
There to lay down His life for me.
And if that isn't love
Then the ocean is dry.
There's no stars in the sky,
And the little sparrows can't fly.
If that isn't love
Then heaven's a myth -
There's no feeling like this,
If that isn't love
Even in death He remembered
The thief hanging by His side.
Then he spoke of love and compassion,
And took him to paradise.
Out of great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in sin, made us alive in Christ. By his grace he reached out to us to save us; then he raised us up to sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus our Savior. In the heavenly realms of eternity we sit among those who always behold the immeasurable riches of God's kindness - with this holy fellowship we gather every Lord's Day as the sure and faithful evidence of the bottomless mercy of God.
The words of John 3:16 along with Psalm 23 are the most famous words of Scripture. God loves the world - you and me and the guy next door. If there is to be a new springtime of evangelization, this God of love will be the inspiration of our prayers and of all that we do to invite others into this fellowship of mercy. John, later in life would pen his general epistles and underscore the reality that God is love. It is this depth of spirituality each of us must reach for - the understanding that in our prayers and in our words we can give others a love that is not of this world. We need this love first in our hearts and homes. And then we must bring a new and redeeming civilization of love to the whole world, even to the uttermost parts of the earth!
Jesus endured the cross, not as a nuisance to get over. Our estrangement from God made it even heavier. By the sheer struggle of bearing it, he proved his love for us. Why would the Son of God embrace such a selfless act? Why not call legions of angels and be done with this brutal pain and loneliness and betrayal? What manner of love is this that a just one would die for the unjust? Joy! Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him, the joy of redeeming you and me. The joy of calling us his family strengthened Jesus with the necessary strength to carry his cross.
Jesus did not come as one seeking to condemn. No. He came not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Any notion less than this is not evangelism - it is quite frankly nonsense. The world received a hug on Golgotha many centuries ago. And to this day, God waits patiently for the world to hug him back.
The spirit of God's love gives life. God, in his infinite trinity of being, is perfect love. Such love is not willing that any should perish - makes every effort to make it almost impossible for anyone to say, "No." Someone might reject such love, but in the scope and depth of why and how God so loved the world, it is difficult to imagine. Every sin and viral seed of hell that can erode the soul of humankind is no match for that grace that is greater and for that love that is rich in mercy and the kindness of God who is love. And everyone who believes him will not perish but have eternal life.
Calvary is where the love of him who made us in his image now seeks to restore us to his fellowship. Paul explains to us that this restoring grace is a gift. It is not anything we have merited or something we could do for ourselves. My friend, it is the unmerited gift and love of him whom Jesus calls Father, and he invites us to call him Father, too.
So who can separate us from the love God. Nothing. Not tribulation, or distress, or lack of food and clothing. God's purposeful love cannot be deterred. Even in the earliest days of the Church, it was not popular or convenient to follow Christ. But no difficulty from man or demon defused the love of God poured into the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit. The love of God is immense; it is endlessly strong, unconquerable in its gentleness and immeasurable in its height and depth, in its length and width.
There is no one beyond love's true intentions, and there is no sin too black or hideous for its saving grace. "For God so loved the world" are words that beat with the heart of the Father. The Father gives what no one can demand, shares what no one can imagine, love's with a love that can not be depleted. This act of God is an act of mutual consideration of the One God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in contemplation of humankind's greatest need. In a selfless act that the holy angels still behold in unending wonder, the Son was given. The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world came to bring us back to the Father's heart - the inner life of God.
If that isn't love; indeed, if that isn't love! Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com