I’m sure you have all come across the well-known phrase often repeated in many a parish newsletter, that: God so loved the world that he did not send a committee. In our modern age committees, in one form or another, have their place; and every diocese, every parish and every religious community has them. But all of us recognize that things happen, not so much because people sit around a table and talk till the cows come home, but because of some person’s passion. The committee itself only succeeds because one or two members have a burning care in their heart. We can all think of notable examples: William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, to name but a few. But the greatest example of transforming passion is found in today’s gospel: “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.”
Saint Paul describes Our Lord’s passionate care in his Letter to the Ephesians. He tells how we were “dead” because of our poor choices. But God doesn’t want us to sink into depression and despair when we make mistakes. For that reason, God sent His only Son. We have no more reason for gloom because ultimately our salvation doesn’t depend on us; as Saint Paul says: “We have been saved by grace.”
Have you ever seen a lump of gold ore? I saw some piled on the ground when I visited a goldmine in Oregon, and I have to say it didn’t look very impressive. I could have walked over chunks of gold ore and not know they were different from any other rock. But an expert could spot them immediately and know that they could be transformed into something valuable and beautiful. That’s what God wants to do for us. The world might consider us of no particular value, maybe even a nuisance. But God is different: He gave his only Son so that we could be transformed into something of great worth: not because of our feeble deeds, but because of his grace.
The other day I received an email from a former parishioner whose husband will be Received into the Church this Easter. At the Rite of Election a few weeks ago, the bishop gave an inspiring homily and touched on the importance of taking part in political elections. We not only carefully count people’s ballots – we very often re-count them. Sometimes the future of a nation depends on just a few votes. Then the bishop stopped, he turned to the candidates for the Easter Sacraments and said to them, “I want to congratulate you. You have won an election; really the most important election of all. And you have triumphed by a single vote. Jesus Christ has cast his ballot for you – and his is the vote that counts.”
You and I have been elected by Jesus. Not because of our good looks, not because of our sparkling personalities, not because of our brilliant insights, and not because of our great achievements – but because of his mercy. Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand the divine mercy. It doesn’t mean that from now on everything will be sweetness and light. Today we heard some very strong words addressed to our spiritual ancestors – the ancient Jews. Their nation came to a sad and terrible end because they rejected the prophets God sent to them. In the first reading the author tells the people that they can’t blame God for their suffering and their misfortune. They only had themselves to blame because of their poor choices and decisions. And yet God allowed those awful things to happen, precisely because of his mercy.
Now what do I mean by that? Well, from our limited human perspective, suffering almost always seems unfair. Why should a fatal disease strike an innocent child? Why do human relationships involve so much pain and heartache? Why does God allow people to do such horrible things to each other? Sadly, there are no ready answers to these questions; and you can find those questions asked in the most ancient literature, including the Bible. And if you read contemporary literature, you will find that these questions haven’t gone away.
And yet, today as we draw closer to Holy Week, we can say this: God did not spare his only Son but gave him up – to the Cross – so that we might have life in Him.