Today I am sharing the reflection give for Friday evening prayer by Bob Denne to the deacon candidates on our most recent deacon training weekend. Bob is a deacon candidate from All Saints Catholic Church in Knoxville, TN.
4th Sunday of Lent
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone that believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.”
These are the most famous words from our Gospel reading this Sunday, most often stated at sporting events and even below the eyes of the players simply as “3:16”. Beautiful words and reminder for sure, but does it really do justice to what our Father did for us through His Son? This evening I’d like to pull some things in from what we’ve read at Mass over the last month or so and then carry all that forward to Good Friday. What’s the bigger picture of John 3:16?
I enjoy jigsaw puzzles with lots of pieces. On holidays we typically reserve a large table to use to fit each small piece to form the larger picture on the box. I’d like to challenge you to put together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. Sometimes Scripture can feel like that to those of us in the pews. How does what I’m hearing today fit into the bigger picture, or do I even know what that bigger picture might be? So, let’s piece together some pieces of the Scripture puzzle.
We heard St. Paul last Sunday say: “We proclaim Christ crucified.” Is that a stumbling block of foolishness for us? Was Christ crucified simply because God so loved the world or that, as we often and truly hear, that Christ died for our sins? Or is there more to the story? Is there a missing piece to the puzzle that will help create the bigger picture of Christ crucified?
Can you recall a story in history of a long struggle and a decisive moment that turned the tide to victory? Perhaps many of us have personal stories of a great battle in our own lives and of our a decisive moment when we just knew we were going to win. Or perhaps we are still in that battle looking for and hoping for victory.
For my wife and me, one of those battles was our son’s diagnosis of a form of leukemia that, at the time, had about a 70% cure rate. We were recently married, living in Eastern Washington, combining my three children and her two into one family. She went off to the Ronald McDonald House and Children’s Hospital in Seattle with our son and I stayed home with the other four, shuffling them to Seattle every other weekend so we could all be together. We all fought that battle for five years and won. Our faith and many conversations with God were key to victory. We called Jesus into our battle. That experience was just one piece, albeit a big one, of the larger picture of our life.
Last Sunday, in Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel, we got a glimpse of a different side of Jesus; a Jesus that was ready to do battle with the money-changers in the Temple. That action, possibly more than any, set up His final battle which took place on the cross.
Each year, on Monday of the 3rd week of Ordinary Time, unless like this year it’s on a feast day, we read this from Chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel: “But no one can enter a strong man’s house … unless he first binds the strong man.”
In Luke, Chapter 1 we hear Zechariah talk of God’s promises to “save us from our enemies.” What and who are our enemies? They would be Sin and Satan. Satan is the strong man Jesus speaks of in the parable from Mark’s Gospel, and Jesus is about to do battle with him. So, let’s fast forward to Good Friday and tie all of this together.
I highly encourage you sometime between now and Good Friday to watch, or re-watch, the Mel Gibson film, “The Passion of the Christ.” There are two scenes, in particular, that I’d like you to focus your attention on that exemplify Jesus coming to do battle, and they revolve around the crucifixion. Jesus is not placed or even dragged onto the cross and nailed to it; He crawls to it. The nail doesn’t exist that could secure the God of the universe to a cross unless He wants to be there. A following scene is even more subtle and occurs right after Jesus dies. We see this bird’s eye view of a drop of water landing in a puddle or body of water and at the brief split-second interval, Satan screams. He knows he has lost; the war is over; the enemies, Sin and Satan, have been defeated.
What should our response to all this be? While the war may be over, we still have to fight our individual battles, and especially those against Sin and Satan. But, we don’t have to do it alone. Jesus offers Himself up for us at daily Mass during the consecration: This is my body; This is my blood. Given up for you. We, as the Body of Christ, are in that offering if we are willing to place ourselves there. The pieces of our puzzle, our salvation history and Scripture, come together on that table, the altar.
The next time we see the numbers 3:16 and, in particular, every time we see the priest lift the host and chalice, think of a great battle and an even greater victory, perhaps your own battle and victory and the great joy that victory brings. If the Word of God, Scripture, and the moment of consecration don’t bring that kind of joy and excitement to our hearts, then we are missing the big picture. God so loved the world? Absolutely. Christ died for our sins? No doubt. Jesus went to war for You and Me and won? You better believe it!
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.