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.
A week or so ago, giraffes starting popping up all over Facebook. Friend after friend after friend changed their profile picture to some sort of giraffe and shortly their after posted some variation on a riddle that they had apparently failed to answer correctly thereby being required by some sort of Facebook Law (part Emily Post part Lemmings-at-cliffs-edge) to change their profile picture to a giraffe. I found the whole thing fairly amusing to watch: seeing what giraffe pictures people stole from the interwebs, seeing how the riddle changed slightly as the days wore on, and seeing how many people were sucked in to this rapidly growing virus. It was almost as if one HAD TO attempt to answer the riddle, but the truth of the matter is you actually don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do on Facebook.
From United Methodist Memes
The Sadducees, those faithful Jews who didn’t believe in bodily resurrection from the dead, attempted to suck Jesus in by means of their own ridiculous riddle. This was the game that the Sadducees played, not believing in the resurrection, they were “sad-you-see”, and so they tried to make the one and only life they had on earth a little bit more enjoyable by engaging anyone who would listen in theological debate. Jesus, as an itinerant Rabbi, was just the sort of person that they loved to debate: he was learned, he had a following, and he wasn’t afraid to talk to people.
The problem with Jesus, however, is that he never let people suck him in. He rarely answered a question in a straightforward manner. When he sensed that somebody was trying to catch him in a theological conundrum, he was quick to turn it back on the asker, which is precisely what he does in Luke 20. I encourage you to read my friend Evan’s take on the conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees especially his point about how Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is very different than it would have been to a group of widows mourning for their husbands:
“When asked a cynical question by a cynical person, sometimes the right thing to do is give an inarguable response. You want me to trap myself in answering your ridiculous question, but I refuse and instead give an answer that leaves you no room for a come-back.”
I won’t get sucked in to riddles on Facebook or from the Sadducees this week, and I hope my preacher friends won’t either.