For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:17-18 (Douay)
This sounds like Jesus is speaking riddles, doesn’t it? Or even contradicting himself within a few words: God didn’t send Jesus into the world to Judge, but if you reject Jesus you’re already judged. There is subtle world play going on in the Greek as well – so don’t worry. Set that over there and we’ll get back to it.
We know the world is broken. If you don’t think the world is broken, step away from the computer: you’re not going to get much out of this posting. But if you do think it’s broken – or, maybe, even a just a bit too messy, read on. You don’t have to be a Christian, or religious, or even a theist to see this. The world is broken. There are wars and greed and violence, injustice, evil everywhere. I don’t really care what your theological point on this might be, all we need to do is admit the brokenness.
To Christians, this is sin and it is evidence of humanity’s participation in sin that – seemingly – no matter what we do to try and fix it, we mess it up more. Gypsy moths and kudzu are both wonderful examples of this: we brought Kudzu to the USA from Japan to keep soil in place during a severe drought in the early 20th Century. Now – it covers the South better than veils cover a bride. We accidentally brought it to a place where it had no predators (bugs and animals) nor were Americans ready to start eating it as they do in Japan; and it came to a perfect temperature/humidity for growth. Boom. Kudzu everywhere. We did the same thing to Gypsy moths: bringing them here to cross-breed with our native silk producers in the 19th Century, but they escaped… and boom. They eat everything now. (I remember walking through the forest once, in High School. All you could hear was the munching of leaves – a very spooky sound!) In Byzantine piety (Catholic and Orthodox) there are prayers that we say asking God to forgive us our sins “voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance.” It’s important to realize: just being here, doing something… things happen.
The world is broken. This is where the word play comes in! You’ll need to know two Greek words. Forgive the lesson:
- κρίνω (krino) “to judge” or “to divide”. You krino the chaff from the grain.
- σῴζω (sozo) “to save” or “to make whole”. Jesus always says “your faith has made you whole” which equally means “your faith has saved you”.
Now, our verse might make a little more sense if we parse the scary words like this:
For God sent not his Son into the world, to break the world apart, but that the world may be made whole by him… He that doth not believe, is already broken apart…
What it means is “If you’re not working with Jesus for the Healing of the World, you’re participating in the breaking apart of it. You’re already on the wrong side of the equation. Jesus doesn’t have to condemn you – to cut you off. You’ve already done so to yourself.”
There is, really, several more layers of theology there to go though (indeed, in Hebrew, Jesus’ name is the same as the Greek Sozo: healer, whole-maker, savior). To be broken most apart is eternal hell. Yet this is enough for now: to know that God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world (break it apart) but that the world through him by be saved (made whole).
This is the #PaschaOption for us today then: to participate in that healing. I know that there are reasons to worry about the state of the world. But I am not convinced we can run away. There are those who don’t want to hear about Jesus. There are those who don’t want to know about sexual morality, about economic justice, about welcoming the stranger, but the Church needs to be out there doing it anyway. There are those who feel threatened by pro life activities like food distribution, opposing unjust war, ending the death penalty, ending abortion – but the Church must do it anyway. She cannot, however, do it by force – and that includes enacting laws. She must do it like Jesus: by sozo. Indeed, that’s how she did it in the Roman Empire. It was our way of life that won the day. “See how these Christians love one another.”
What can you do to live the #PaschaOption? There is a tradition among all denominations of Judaism called “Tikkun Olam” – the repair of the world. I was surprised to find it the subject of a Children’s song – from Sesame Street no less! It well makes the point: any act of mercy, of kindness, of love is a participation in that process of healing. Again, I’ll not bet on universalism – a wager I’d lose because of free will – but I will wager on this quote from Robert Kennedy:
“Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.” These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
“If Athens shall appear great to you,” said Pericles, “consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty.” That is the source of all greatness in all societies, and it is the key to progress in our time.
I don’t think we can (or should) try to “rebuild Christendom”. But I will settle for taking that moment of the Mass when heaven strikes earth and God is here, now, and bringing it with me to work. If we each did that, just once, for each Mass, once for each Divine Liturgy, one point of Sozo in the midst of all the krino, by God’s grace we could change everything.
Author: Huw Raphael
A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.
View all posts by Huw Raphael