The Most Holy Trinity | Year A
Jesus said to Nicodemus,
‘God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God’s only Son.’
The love of God for the world – his love for us – is at the heart of these beautiful words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus. The nature of that love is explained twice, as if Jesus was speaking to two different groups of people.
The first four lines speak to believers, offering them the opportunity to reflect upon the basis for their belief - “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son…”. The next three lines speak to those who are conscious of themselves as sinners, or those who are finding believing difficult – “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world…” . Jesus speaks to both groups who would have been present in the crowd, those who were already believers and “in love” with God, and those who felt that their wrong-doing was a barrier to being loved by God.
But Jesus addresses his words to one person, Nicodemus. At different times during his lifetime Nicodemus was likely to identify with both groups of people. We are the same – during periods of our lives we are firm in belief and our awareness of the love of God; at other times we are weighed down by our sense of our own failure, and feel that God is distant. We condemn ourselves, perhaps even projecting our self-condemnation onto God as if it was his condemnation.
Jesus did not come to condemn but to save… Our understanding of this truth can be deepened enormously by taking it as a personal guideline in our dealings with others. It is so easy to condemn others, and we can be tempted to do it when we are having difficulty living with our own sense of worthlessness and low self-esteem.
When we feel the urge to condemn others, our mindset can be radically changed by seeking instead to help the other person. This can be as simple as defending a person we know, or whole groups of people we don’t know, when others are condemning them.
Jesus does not condemn us. When we refuse to condemn others we are following him. These actions deliberately chosen can have an effect not just on others, but on us as well, helping to free us from self-condemnation.
It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to follow the Son whom the Father sent. God continues to love the world, and each one of us individually.