"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
March 3, 2023, Words By: Trisha Welstad, Image By: unknown
Last week our city had a storm that dropped nearly a foot of snow on the ground in less than twenty-four hours. While it was a pretty sight at first, it quickly overwhelmed the infrastructure of an area that had not received that much snowfall in a single day in eighty years.
When I picked up my children from the neighborhood school, little did I know that one of their teachers would be stranded without a bus for his daily commute, while another would end up spending six hours on the road for what should have been a twenty-minute drive home.
Friends began texting us to stay over as they could not make it through a grid-locked freeway full of accidents and abandoned cars. We later discovered that some families had been forced to spend the night in their vehicles with their young children, and that a group of middle-schoolers had been stranded on a bus when their driver disappeared, leaving them in the care of a nearby resident until they could be reunited with their families.
Last week was another example where the need to support our neighbors was urgent. To only offer well wishes or a prayer for their travels would have been a kind but incomplete, insufficient gesture. Teachers needed someone to pick them up at the bus stop and drive them home. Diabetics needed a place with food to maintain their blood sugar levels. Children and thousands of homeless needed generous neighbors to provide shelter. Those who experienced the chaos on freeways and sloping hills needed rescue.
As I read the text for this week, amid the cold and chaos, I can struggle to get past my childhood perspective of Jesus. It was shaped by a hyperfocus on the “eternal life” mentioned in John 3:16, often to the exclusion of other scripture that help complete our understanding of what life with God looks like.
And it’s not hard to see why. In our scripture for today, we encounter Jesus in a conversation with Nicodemus, one of the leaders of the rule-keeping, religious community. Here, Jesus communicates the truth about life with God in a way that seems otherworldly at first. He uses metaphors such as birth and wind, utterly confusing Nicodemus. Then Jesus does him a favor by using a metaphor he will surely understand, incorporating Moses’ use of a snake to save the people of Israel from death. The “spirituality of the text” comes through — just as Moses saved his people from physical death, Jesus will save them from spiritual death.
But if you look closer, you’ll see this interpretation doesn’t capture the fullness of God’s salvation; It diminishes God’s actions right here and now among us. In Jesus’ words of salvation he speaks of both water and the Spirit, the bodily ascension to heaven and the descent of God to earth. In our scripture today, Jesus references both physical (Moses) and spiritual (eternal life) salvation in the same sentence.
When we hyperfocus on one aspect of God’s saving work, we lose sight of the fullness of God’s saving work. When we remove John 3:16 from the verses that surround it, we lose sight of the healing and real saving power of God in my neighborhood in the middle of a snowstorm. While I wanted my community to know Jesus’s love within them, what my friends, neighbors and fellow travelers also needed was an experience of Jesus’ warm saving embrace around them in the midst of the cold.
Dwelling Among Us
Reflect on how this text is relevant to the real needs in your community. Where is the Spirit sending you to save the bodies (and souls) in your neighborhood?