The Bible: Reflection and Dialogue with Questions of the Day. God loves the world; divine vision, human frailty, new beginnings
Today’s readings give ample opportunity for the necessary dialogue between the church, the Christian message and the human vision and the forces at work in the world in which we live. On the one hand we have the vision of God’s love for the world, first as expressed by Jesus himself in John’s gospel: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. God sent his Son into the world not to condemn it, but that through his Son the world might be saved. These are sentiments stressed again in the reading from the letter to the Ephesians: God loved us so much that he was generous with his mercy. He brought believers in him to life in Christ. This saving vision and action of God through Christ is to be continued and made manifest in the Church, by the Church, by believers. They are God’s work of art, created anew in Christ to live the good life and bear witness to God’s vision and message.
But to become a reality in the world of space and time, the divine vision must become real in human life, in believers, and then in those convinced of the value to them of this vision. And the vision can become a reality not through human effort but by the working of divine power as the apostle Paul candidly admits when reflecting on the mystery that is the new covenant: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Only too often both the ministers of the Church and of many of the faithful in general have feet of clay, that impede even consideration of the relevance of the divine vision, of God’s love for the world.
But even apart from this there are other elements of the vision of God’s love for the world that call for dialogue. Christ came that the world might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus is both life and light. As light he brings to light what is wrong and sinful, and as such brings judgment. Salvation means accepting the light, God’s vision of life. True life comes through “death” to what is dark and sinful in oneself. This is not a vision or message that is too easily accepted, least of all so in a society which either rejects the divine or is agnostic about God’s very existence. In any matter of dialogue with modern Western life, from the believer’s point of view, such as those attending today’s Mass and others, for whom the readings were originally, and still are, intended, the message remains clear: there are those prepared to hear Jesus’ message and those who are not. The readings call on believers to accept God’s vision and message and be messengers of it to others in their lives and religious convictions. With regard to failures in Christian response, the Biblical message can provide a certain balance. Today’s first reading is about a failure of response in Israel’s history, followed by disaster, but ending by the indication of a divine saving intervention and promise of a new beginning. God himself created all things and saw that his creation was good, very good, but soon saw the increase of sinfulness, regretting that he created humanity (Genesis 1:1-21; 6:1-8). And yet he brought about a new beginning after the flood. The scandals of some years past, particularly in a limited number of clergy and religious, is saddening and disheartening, but still no call for despair. Rather it calls for reflection on some central truths, one truth being that the success of this divine vision of God’s love comes from God’s power, not from mere human effort. The divine vision shows up what believers, and the human race, are called to be. The divine light reveals human dignity and human failings. The life of each Christian is still God’s work of art. Let us pray that the Church, and each one of us, may live the divine mystery that we are. As the second reading puts it: “Created in Jesus Christ to live the good life as from the beginning God had meant us to live it”.