It is almost unfair to make John 3:16 part of a lesson that can be read on Sunday morning. It has become such a cultural Christian trope that it is basically impossible for us to hear anything other than “For God so loved the world…” We miss, in my opinion, the far better verse that immediately follows. The RCL hivemind has tried to help us out, by including Jesus’ passing reference to that really odd story from Numbers 21, but honestly, what preacher in their right mind is going to the “God killed people with snakes and then saved them with an idol of a snake” story? It seems the best option for this week might be to help people get past the snakes and forget about the man in the rainbow wig and preach the reprise of John’s light and darkness motif.
The judgment that Jesus came to save us from is this, that the light had come into the world, and people loved darkness instead of the light. For all the good that Christianity has done in the world, for its music and art, for its (occasional) embrace of peace, for its (purported) sharing of the love of God, this statement about our love of darkness is as true today as it was when Jesus first said it.
It doesn’t take long to see what Jesus means. A quick scroll of your Facebook newsfeed will show that Christians on both sides of the American political divide have decided to live in darkness, addicted to anger and worshiping the idol of being right. Some are obvious: the racially motivated meme or the picture intended to poke fun at someone’s appearance. Other instances of the darkness that we choose to love are less conspicuous. It is the veiled dig at those who disagree with us; the passive aggressive comment about fellow children of God.
As we enter the middle week of Lent, it seems appropriate that things are as dark as they will get ahead of Good Friday. Perhaps this week, rather than being enamored with John 3:16 or grossed out by snakes, it is probably a good opportunity to take stock of where we have decided to choose darkness rather than light, to repent of those decisions, and to ask God to help us walk in the true light of grace.