by Father Mike Stubbs
“If I see one more corporation declare itself ‘green,’ I’m going to start burning tires in my backyard.”
– Ed Hardiman, Bristow, Va.
“Green” is the latest buzz word, often invoked to create an atmosphere of fashionable concern for the environment. While the intent may be good, overuse of that word may backfire. We hear about green solutions, green technology, green products. Constant repetition of a word can water down its impact.
On the other hand, sometimes constant repetition of a word can drive home a point. That is the goal in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 3:14-21. In that relatively short passage, the verb “believe” appears five times. It is always a question of faith in Jesus Christ, “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
That is an issue that John’s Gospel is constantly raising. Consequently, some form of the verb “to believe” occurs a total of 78 times in that Gospel. Compare that to a total of 8 times in Matthew’s Gospel, 8 times in Luke’s Gospel, and 9 times in Mark’s Gospel. It is not as though those Gospels ignore the question of faith. At the same time, John’s Gospel focuses on the act of believing in a way that is lacking in the other Gospels.
Similarly, the phrase “eternal life” shows up 17 times in John’s Gospel.
On the other hand, it appears only once in Matthew’s Gospel, and not at all in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. Once again, John’s Gospel places a particular emphasis upon this concept.
It is not as though John’s Gospel is saying something completely different than the other Gospels. They are all proclaiming Christ. At the same time, John’s is using a different vocabulary. He is also thinking in terms of a different theology.
In John’s theology, the act of believing in Jesus occupies roughly the same position as the act of following Jesus in the theologies of Matthew, Mark and Luke. That does not mean that “believing” in John’s Gospel corresponds exactly to “following Jesus” in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But it does fill a similar position.
Following Jesus leads us to the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. And believing in Jesus enables us to possess eternal life, according to John’s Gospel: “Everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
On the surface, the act of believing encouraged in John’s Gospel may sound less active, less demanding, than the act of following Jesus as promoted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. That could make it a matter of cheap grace. But such is not the case.
The Gospel reading from John informs us that those who refuse to believe “preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” The darkness of unbelief hides their evil deeds, while the light of faith would expose them.
On the other hand, those who live justly are not afraid of the truth. They naturally arrive at belief in Jesus Christ: “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
In other words, John’s Gospel does not present the act of believing as a purely intellectual exercise. It involves action, a commitment to the way of Jesus Christ.