The Moral Crisis
Rev. James C. Hudgins
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
When we engage the sciences to seek the truth, we test, observe and measure parts of Godís creation. In this way we expect to find precise equations, relationships and explanations to help unlock the mysteries of the natural world around us.
The context of this Gospel is Jesusí dialogue with Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin who visits Jesus by night to discuss his teachings. In the course of their discussion, Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one will understand his teaching until after his crucifixion (Jn 3:14-15). Thatís because Jesusí death on the cross would itself become the perfect expression of total, unconditional, sacrificial love, and the summation of everything he had ever taught. Itís why the best symbol of love is not a valentine, but a crucifix.
But such a message cannot remain merely a lovely idea for us to ponder. There is an inescapable moral dimension to Jesusí doctrine, because the choice to believe it necessarily implies the choice to imitate it. Thatís why conversion and repentance are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. It's why we strive to conform our behavior to God's word, rather than expect God to conform his word to suit our behavior. It's a challenge Jesus himself identifies in the words of this same Gospel passage, ďThis is the verdict, that light came into the world, but people preferred darkness because their deeds were evilĒ (Jn 3:19). Itís interesting to note that the Greek word for verdict is ďkrisis.Ē The proclamation of the Gospel provokes a sort of moral crisis, since it is a message to which no one can remain neutral. Either we hear it and act on it, or we hear it and reject it. Itís why Jesus will forever be the most controversial figure in the world.
Since graduation season is upon us, hereís an amusing fact ó the Washington Post once reported that ten years after graduation, 97 percent of people surveyed could not remember who their graduation speaker was, or what the speech was about. Perhaps thatís because so many such speeches proffer the same platitudes ó follow your dreams, realize your potential, fulfill your life project. Such advice is forgettable, because it's banal, trite and spiritually enervating. God didnít create you in the image of one who lives for himself, but in his own image ó the image of one who is personal, relational and sacrificial.
Itís become very popular to opine that it doesnít matter what you believe, so long as you're a good person. That sentiment is shallow comfort, because it is manifestly false. What we believe matters very much, because our actions flow from our beliefs. Our belief in the Trinity means that Godís nature is an unconditional, self-giving relationship, and forms the highest ideal to which we can aspire. ďGreater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friendsĒ (Jn 15:13). Jesusí words to Nicodemus remind us who God is, and who we are created to become. Remember that, next time you sign yourself with the cross. It's not the sign of a God who is a distant, unknowable force, but the personal love of a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.