At sporting events, every so often, a person might see a banner with John 3:16 written on it unfurled in the bleachers. Of course, it is a reference to the Gospel passage that we will hear this coming weekend as the Church celebrates the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This Sunday signals not just the midpoint of the Lenten journey, but even more that you and I are actually heading toward the finish line and the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. Yet, before we get to that point, we still have the grueling days of Holy Week — and they might be just what we need to appreciate the handiwork of God and our own needed participation in raising the banner of God’s love in the world.

Scripture commentators state that there are two parts to this Sunday’s Gospel, separated by the line, “And this is the verdict.” The first part concerns the evidence: God “gave his only Son” in whom we choose to believe or not believe. The second part gives the judgment: Those are saved who believe in Jesus, live the truth, and come to the light. Those are condemned who do not believe in Jesus, prefer darkness, and do “wicked things.” In other words, my sisters and brothers, our whole life is working out our own verdict!

Think of that for a moment. You and I hear God’s desired outcome: “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” (Jn 3:16). But the question I pose this Lord’s Day is what verdict does the witness of our lives lead to? As once put forward to me: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would they have enough evidence to convict you?” My counter question of course is, “Why on earth should they, whoever they are, suspect me in the first place?”

It is probably true that most of us will never actually stand as a defendant in the courtroom, having to defend our faith in Christ. But in another sense, my brothers and sisters, we’re on trial every day. The world is watching us, weighing our testimonies, and looking for evidence of our faith. Our teammates, school friends, and work associates are quick to detect inconsistencies in our lives. Family members will be influenced by our example, whether good or bad.

So at this midpoint of the Lenten season, I invite us, as we rejoice in God’s love for us, to an examination of conscience: Could a good case be made against you and me that we really are Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ? At least four pieces of incriminating evidence should convict us of being a Christian. If you and I were on the jury considering the evidence against us, what verdict would be reached?

1. The physical evidence: Consider the places you and I go — whether the neighbors see us going to church on Sunday or every place but — the attitudes you and I exhibit, the language we use, the magazines we subscribe to, what appears on our electronic devices, our driving habits, and other behaviors that we practice. Are you and I living like a Christian? How would you vote?

Guilty   Not Guilty

2. The testimonial evidence: It’s hard to be a witness for Christ if people never see your changed life or hear your spoken testimony. Would your life or mine convince another that a relationship with Jesus Christ really does possess transforming power? Have we shared Him with a friend recently? Have you and I spoken up for Christ? Has anyone asked us a reason for the hope that is within us? How would you vote in the jury box?

Guilty   Not Guilty

3. The behavioral evidence: Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” Do you and I show God’s loving face and caring ways to those around us? Demonstrate God’s values in the public square in this age of secularism and egocentrism? Can others see the “mind of Christ” reflected in our thinking and behavior? How would a jury find you on this count?

Guilty   Not Guilty  

4. The fingerprint evidence: Are you and I leaving an imprint on this world for Christ? Is our visible devotion to the Word of God leaving a mark on someone else? On our integrity? Our own prayer life? Are you and I becoming what we receive every time we come to the altar — a sign of God’s love alive in the world? Is ours an enduring testimony that will still be casting a shadow after we’re gone? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how do you find the defendant?

Guilty   Not Guilty  

The word “verdict” is derived from the Latin “dicere,” to speak, and “veritas,” truth … to speak the truth. At this Lenten midpoint, you and I are being invited to speak the truth about what our lives are witnessing to. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises would see this as considering the two standards: Christ’s or Satan’s. Which or whose standard or flag do we fly with our lives? But even more, sisters and brothers, we are being invited to consider the changes we can still make so that the verdict goes in our favor.

God loved the world so much — but how much do you and I love God? There is still time for us to unfurl his banner, for “His banner over me is love.”

 

Solemnity of Saint Joseph Solemnities are always days of great joy and celebration in the Church. When the Solemnity of Saint Joseph falls on a Friday, even in Lent, it is not a day of abstinence (can. 1251 of the Code of Canon Law). Accordingly, it is permissible to eat meat in celebration of the Solemnity of Saint Joseph this year on Friday, March 19.

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