This Gospel reading pleads that we be assured that we are loved by God: He has given us eternal life by having his Son raised on the cross on our behalf. Only love of us could move God to have his Son die for us. How can we ever say “God does not love me!”
The age-old question, “Could God have given us eternal life through some other means than his Son’s crucifixion”, is not posed in this Gospel. What is given here is the fact, namely, that it is through someone else’s generosity that I can have eternal life. I couldn’t give it to myself, particularly after the kind of life I have at times led – so He did it for me. Dying, when he did not merit it, is the product of love which wants us to live, and forever. Even in the best circumstances it takes some time to convince oneself that God really loves me so much. Often life, which is under His control, seems to argue that He does not love me, at least not much or enough. This expired Jesus on the cross is silent and grim witness, in all its ugliness, to love for me – unimaginable and undetected, if not explained by God.
But this truth about God’s love for us, based on unarguable fact of innocence’s death, expresses a human reality: from death comes life. Yes, death issues in life eternal, the Gospel insists, when one believes it can, or better, if one believes in Jesus, that his death can, if done for me, issue in my life.
This Jesus, meant to be understood as God’s crowning example of His love for us, is offered by this Gospel as Light, the Light which makes fullest sense of God and his creature. This Gospel argues that only people who do what the Law of Moses, perfected by Jesus, commands will approach Jesus, will have faith in him. If one does what is right and allows himself, in his good virtue, be drawn to Jesus, he will find that his good deeds, now reflect not simply his own decisions, but show themselves to be the result of having let the Light shine on themselves. Perhaps John is too simple here: will the good disciple of Jesus make clear to those around him that he is, as the Gospel says, “in God”? Perhaps it does not fall to the disciple to make clear why his deeds are in God; perhaps it falls rather to those around this good person to perceive and admit that this goodness comes only from a person’s union with their God, with Jesus. May our world recognize the real reason why there are good people in it.
John Kilgallen, SJ