Many of us know what it's like to live in someone's shadow. Ask a middle child, or someone who grew up with a friend who became increasingly more popular. Ask a young person (or adult) who's tired of being known as "so-and-so's daughter or son."
So what's it like to be John 3:17? Now there's a verse that lives in a shadow. How would you like to follow the most familiar and popular verse in the Bible? Confirmands under pressure to choose a verse that sums up their faith turn to John 3:16. It gets to go to ball games, sitting proudly among the crowd. John 3:16 gets called "the Gospel in miniature" by theologians who know a Gospel when they see it.
And then along comes verse 17. Someone is asked to write a reflection about it for a respected Christian women's magazine, and she has to dig out her Bible to remember what good old John 3:17 is about. Oh, yes: "For God did not send [God's] Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior."
But we know what usually happens to people who live in the shadows: They eventually come out. Given the opportunity, they emerge.
They even blossom. So it is with John 3:17. When you read it over and over (and you have to if you're writing a reflection on it), John 3:17 packs a punch. It's worthy of its own place in the bleachers. It reminds us that God is not about judging people but about saving people. Better yet, John 3:17 reminds us that our gracious God is not about judging us but about saving us.
That's good news for people who know about shadows. Because shadows take on forms other than unpopularity. Shadows can be about guilt or secrets, about grief and hopelessness, about illness and worry. And we know, too, what it's like to live in those places. Those are places worthy of a cup of coffee, caring people, a box of tissues and, mostly, a savior.
After all, we're people who depend on good old 17 — the verse that sends disaster relief to a broken and hurting world. Thank God for 17 and its shadow, the cross.
Sevig wrote this article for the June 1999 issue of Lutheran Woman Today.
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