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The Mystery of Salvation

June 11, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

June 11, 2017
John 3:16-18
Fr. George Smiga

Today’s gospel begins with love and ends with judgment. We are all attracted to the love: “God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This is the gospel, the good news. God loved us so much that he saved us in Christ. But the judgment that takes place at the end of the passage is more difficult to swallow: “Whoever does not believe is already condemned for not believing in the name of the only Son of God.”

What this passage seems to be saying is that God loved us so much that he gave us Jesus. But if we do not accept Jesus, God does not love us anymore. In fact, this is very close to the interpretation that many Evangelical Christians make of this passage. They believe that the only way to God is through Jesus and anyone who does not accept Jesus as the Lord of his or her life cannot be saved. I think this would be troubling to many of us here today. It means that the kind Jewish couple who lives next door, who are the best of neighbors, who water our plants when we go on vacation, are going to hell. It means that the kind Moslem doctor who always takes a little bit of extra time with grandma when she comes in for her appointment and, even when she is in pain, finds a way to make her smile is excluded from God’s love.

Most of the people in the world are not Christian. Yet, they love their families, serve their communities, and many work for peace. Are we required to believe that these people who do not believe in Jesus will never find eternal life? Catholic theology says that we are not. Our Catholic tradition has always believed that people of good will, who try to do what is right, even if they do not accept Jesus, are still loved by God and are still saved by God. At the same time, Catholic theology assumes that Jesus is the way to salvation, the only way to salvation, and that we, as followers of Christ, should spread the word so that others might believe in him. Yet if people do not accept our message, we still claim that it is still possible for God to save them.

Evangelical Christians call foul. They say you cannot have it both ways. If Jesus is the only way to salvation, then Jesus is the only way to salvation. Those who do not believe in Jesus are out. Their argument is not without its logic. How, then, can we respond to it? I would suggest to you that today’s Feast of the Trinity is helpful.

At the heart of our faith, we believe in one God who is three divine persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. How can God be one and three at the same time? We do not know. We cannot explain it. We say that it is a mystery, that God is greater than us and different from us. We understand that we cannot understand the very being of God, and yet, we believe. I would suggest to you that we can move some of this mystery into our understanding of salvation. Jesus is the only way to the Father, a unique gift given to us. Yet we also know that the gift of Jesus cannot exhaust who God is or how God loves. God is greater than us and different from us. So we should never use the gift of Jesus to claim that a Jew, a Moslem, a Hindu, or an atheist is not loved by God and cannot be saved by God.

God is both one and three. How can God be both? We do not know, but we believe. Jesus is both the only way to salvation and those who do not believe in Jesus can still be saved. How can these two things be possible? We do not know. But again, it is something that we believe is true.

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