Remember when you first learned to cuss? Remember when you first learned to cuss and your parents found out about it? Uh oh! Everyone has been disciplined when it comes to saying a swear word, whether it is saying the swear word in front of one’s parents or another person tells the parents their kid used a swear word. The most common response given to the child is, “I ought to wash your mouth out with soap!” This disciplinary response sounds rather harsh, but it hopefully teaches a child that using a swear word is improper behavior, and from that point on, actually having had his/her mouth washed out with soap, that the child will think twice about swearing. The punishment does not mean the parents do not love their child, but the use of a swear word has its consequences. And the child is given a second chance.
What about when you stole something for the first time, and got caught? What happened then? Now, I would assume that none of you ever stole a car, but let’s use that as an example. So, we may find a young man who steals a car and gets caught. Of course calls his parents to help him, and to bail him out of jail. The parents know that it will be in the best interest of their son to leave him in jail. They are leaving them in jail not because they do not love their son, but because they want to teach him a lesson. Out of tough love he learns that there are consequences for his actions. They do not disown him; they love him unconditionally, and have faith he will never steal again. He is given a second chance.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of John has a very challenging message for us, because it speaks about God’s love for us as a whole. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16). While at the same time there is mention of condemnation. “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18) What needs noted is that the entire Gospel passage needs to be taken in its entirety and put into appropriate context to see how God loves us.
Let us return back to the example of the child using a swear word. If we only apply verse 18 to the situation, we would find the parents only disciplining the child with no purpose of helping the child learn from their mistake. Yet a parent is not only there to show discipline, but to love their child unconditionally – despite mistakes. Let us now apply this to the example of the young person who steals a car. Jesus is using the harsh language of condemnation just as a parent shows tough love – a parent who does not condone negative behavior; that parent who watches their son go to jail. Jesus is boldly explaining God’s love, God’s parental love, in the entire passage.
Now, this does not mean a child has the right to keep making mistakes knowing their parents will continue to love them despite the mistakes. Nor does it mean that because God loves us unconditionally, that we can continue to sin or turn away from God saying that it is okay because God loves me. There is a responsibility which we have, whether it is to our parents or God. We may mess up, but we need to strive to grow and to change our ways. Just because this Scripture is read during Lent, just because we are in Lent, does not mean we only work hard to improve ourselves during these 40 days in preparation for Easter; we need to apply this lesson to every day of our lives. What are you doing to change your ways, and keep growing in your relationship with God? What is it that you are doing, or not doing, that you need for God to give you a second chance?