“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3: 16.
I’ve just started reading Eric Metaxas’s new biography of Martin Luther, which has the bold title, “Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.”
It’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and Martin Luther was at the heart of this spiritual and political movement.
Of John 3:16, the scriptural quote so famous, that we see it on posters from the sidelines at many sporting events, Martin Luther said it is the heart of the Bible, and “the Gospel in miniature.”
This quote was on full display and heard recently at the funeral service for the Reverend Billy Graham, whose “Crusades for Christ,” beginning the 1950s, helped so many to rediscover God and changed people’s lives.
Interesting to me was Graham’s son, the Reverend Franklin Graham, in his eulogy, mentioned the text of John 3:16. It commented how “This passage (of the Gospel) was probably in every message my father preached because it demonstrates the love of God. It gives hope to the world.”
Franklin Graham concluded by inviting anyone listening to pray and accept Christ: “What better time to invite the Savior into your heart — than at Billy Graham’s funeral.”
John’s Gospel contains several conversations of Jesus with people, as many as ten. Some of whom we know by location such as the Samaritan woman at the well, others like the Pharisee Nicodemus, we know by name. During the liturgical year, this gospel passage is used both on Trinity Sunday and on this Fourth Sunday, Lent.
This repetition is a way of stressing how God continues to invite us into the sacred mystery of the Godhead, and at this time of year — with Jesus stretching out his arms on the cross, and welcoming us with open arms into his death and new life, and his great mercy.
Is this invitation to God’s great mercy meant for the few headed to a particular, tiny island of humanity, like some exclusive spiritual resort? Or does the call extend God’s great mercy to the more broad segment of humankind: Jew and Gentile alike, those people of “sincere heart,” and great kindness; those enlightened ones who walk in the light of truth?
Over the centuries, Christians have disagreed on these points. Pope Francis is clear on this point — he calls for compassion and pardons worldwide; something, we need to hear. He writes: “Let us not forget that God pardons and God pardons again.” (And) “No one can be excluded from God’s mercy.”
Evangelist Nick Hall who was mentored by Billy Graham, recently commented:
“The times I spent with Reverend Graham, it was always more time with Jesus. When I asked him questions about my marriage, how to be a better leader, how to be a better friend, how to prepare a message – (his reply) it was always more time with Jesus.”
Lent is a time of personal conversation with the Lord. Perhaps this is the Catholic version of “more time with Jesus,” by paying close attention to how our lives are lifted up with God’s mercy – as Jesus is raised on the cross and in His resurrection.
In her own spiritual conversation, poet Mary Oliver, speaks for us — in these simple words:
“Lord God, mercy is in your hands, pour me a little. And tenderness too. My need is great…”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.