Recently—which is to say in the last year or so—I’ve had two different people tell me that John 3:16 is their favorite verse of scripture. Yesterday, that happened during a pastoral visit. A year or so ago, that happened in church, when I was discussing the merits of reading all the “comfortable words” in the Rite I service of Holy Eucharist. I’m not sure why, but now my entire concept of John 3:16 is characterized by those conversations.
It’s a familiar verse—perhaps the most well-known in the Christian world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to the end that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Some verses of scripture I need to look at closely to quote on paper—checking every two or three words to make sure I get it right. This one I don’t worry about. Actually, I’m kind of glad to have a new way of thinking about this familiar verse. I think what’s most interesting to me about that is getting the chance to think about how other people like this verse.
Why does someone pick this verse as his favorite? That’s a follow-up question I need to have with both people. Is it its familiarity? Is it its power? What does it mean to have one favorite verse of scripture? I have a favorite gospel account (Mark), but that’s hardly a helpful designation. That’s almost like saying that the New Testament is my favorite part of the bible. What does one mean by saying that this one verse is his favorite?
Really, what hits me this morning is that two people I both admire and love would identify John 3:16 as the verse of scripture that means the most to them. I think that takes guts. That’s like saying that Beethoven’s fifth is one’s favorite symphony or like saying that steak and a baked potato is one’s favorite food. Basically, it’s admitting what I am too prideful to admit—that John 3:16 really is the beautiful statement of our faith that millions of Christians have come to know and love as their favorite.
My faith doesn’t have to be subtle. It doesn’t need to be based on some esoteric scriptural reference. No one holds up a sign that reads “Ezekiel 17:3,” and there’s a reason for that. As I read today’s gospel lesson (John 3:16-21), I’m invited back into the heart of our faith—the comfort food of the gospel. That’s a good place to be.