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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. (John 3:17-20, NRSV)
Today, October 1st at 10am marks the start of the 2012 term of the Supreme Court. The court begins its term every year on the first Monday of October. As has become the case in recent years, the work of the Court will be intense and polarizing as in the nature of our politics and discourse. The Court’s makeup of five conservatives and four liberals means that the poison of partisanship infects the veil of jurisprudence. Despite the perception and attempts of the governmental institutional life to avoid the appearance of favoritism, history tells us that nearly every social dis-ease affected the work of the Court. From slavery in the 19th century to progressive social activism in the early 20th century, the work of the court has always cemented the views of a generation of jurors, partisans, and the society as a whole.
Despite the challenges of the Court’s docket this term (issues of Affirmative Action in higher education, same-sex marriage, and voting rights), the work of the Court begins just as another major American institution of regulation also returns to work……NFL Referees. Sunday marked the first time in the 2012-13 NFL season that the NFL referees were allowed to play after a lockout began over the summer contract dispute. The NFL’s use of substitute refs, was a debacle to those that loved the game. With all of the criticism they received (even though the blame for lack of readiness rest with the NFL and not the refs), their work to officiate the most popular game in the United States carried much more weight (and had much more impact) on the lives of everyday Americans. Millions of Americans hang on the decisions that these men make every week for 16 weeks of the regular season. Billions of dollars of trade and merchandising hinge on the outcomes of the games they officiate.
Both of these examples highlight the importance and significance of regulation and laws in our life together. The work of the NFL referee and the Supreme Court is identical they interpret a present day action in the light of existing ‘case law’ or ‘canon’. Whether the context is a courtroom or a stadium, the implications of the decision they make impacts the two litigating parties by making them winners or losers, creating a new precedent, or expanding existing definitions. Indeed, the work of all ‘officials’ serves the greater good of governing our lives together to keep peace and maintain harmony.
Their collective work, officials, jurors, umpires and all who do that work, is essential to our life together. For, basic human nature mandates the role of the official or the juror in our institutional life. Whether it is government regulators, crossing guards, judges or umpires, human being’s behavior show a lack of self-control and engagement in the world. We have a tendency to cheat when no one is looking and to bend (or break) the rules when it suits our case. We are going to always need people to judge our actions in accordance with the rules.
Those people have a particular function in conveying their judgment. The judge’s and the official’s function is not to remind us of the law nor is it to make us merely aware of the law as it exists. It is to judge the actions we have already taken against what is accepted as right/just.
The above passage from John’s gospel is the testament of Jesus about himself. It is prompted by his encounter with Nicodemus by night and in secret. Nicodemus is the inquisitive Pharisee who is seeking a deeper understanding of the Christ in this moment. Read all chapter three to get a more thorough understanding of the conversation between these two men. As part of the conversation, Jesus expands on his initial answer to Nicodemus to give a self disclosure of his very nature. Specifically, Jesus conveys the judgement of the world, saying, “ (17)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…. (19)And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”
These statements, which are predicated on verse 17 means that the light (Christ) has come to be received for his message and that darkness (rejection of Christ’s message) was more favorable to people. The goal of the Christ was not to merely condemn bad behavior and just separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Jesus does that. Likewise, Jesus is not coming to merely recite or interpret the legal customs and codes that are part of the Jewish worldview. Jesus does that too! Jesus Christ comes to bring a new way of being, offering life and life more abundantly according to John. This new life and way of being is offered to all who receive him for who he is……the Christ, the Logos, God incarnate.
The judgment in this passage is not so much about what Jesus is going to do (future expectation) nor what Jesus has done (and continues to perform). Instead, the judgement according to Jesus here is self evident by our actions in response to the Christ. Jesus comes into the world and brings a message and the people respond more to their present “darkness” and reject the message Christ brings (that is the judgment). Our actions in the darkness are made known in the light and therefore the judgment of the Christ is clear.
This is a hard notion to swallow for Christians who want God to be the ultimate line judge and determine as a Supreme Court Justice or umpire determining the behaviors of all humanity and creation. I don’t deny that other gospels and epistles do very much convey that reality as part of the role of Christ as Lord. However, the self-disclosure of Jesus in the passage should make us personally responsible for how we respond to the message of Christ. How we respond furthers the judgment of the Christ in the light of his word. By responding in the light, we show Christ as the vision of truth that God intends for him, and all of his followers, to be.