Conversion | Season of Joy

Season of Joy

Today's Season of Joy reflection on John 3:16-21 is by Dan Roche.

Dan is a certified spiritual director with experience in social justice work and church administration. He was a Jesuit before serving as a community organizer in China and India. Dan directed the Family Life Office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and was Director of the Jesuit Spiritual Center, where he continues to lead retreats. He also is active with the Kairos Prison Ministry. Dan is a husband, father and grandfather.


John 3:16-21 (excerpt)

God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.

To read the full scripture passage, please visit:

Chapter 3 of John's gospel, describes three people, who either reject, ponder or accept Jesus' teaching: the Jewish priests, Nicodemus, and John the Baptist.

The priests are obsessed with ritual purity, strict observance of the law, and self-righteous Orthodoxy. Jesus calls them hypocrites and they reject his teaching as a threat to their authority.

The second person is Nicodemus, a Pharisee who comes to Jesus at night, thinking he must be from God. But Nicodemus is doubtful and literally in the dark. Jesus challenges his blindness saying, "No one can see the reign of God without being reborn from above."

Nicodemus responds: "How can this be?"

Jesus answers prophetically: "The Son of Man must be lifted up so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

Nicodemus is every man, every woman. He appears two more times in John's narrative. He along with Joseph of Arimathea, bravely go to Pilate requesting the body of Jesus. He later brings oil for ritual burial. With these acts of kindness, he is birthing Christ's Spirit being reborn.

The third person is John the Baptist who hears Jesus' words, sees his deeds, and affirms him as the Messiah. This recognition, this conversion, comes to John in stages as it did to Nicodemus. He says, "Christ must increase and I decrease."

My contemporary example of conversion, is Joseph from Cleveland. I met him at a maximum-security prison during a Kairos retreat. He was serving 30 years to life for a crime he did not commit.

Joe sat next to me and I heard his story. When he was 21, his drug-dealing cousin pleaded with Joe to accompany him to a meeting with a drug supplier to whom the cousin owed money.

Joe naively went with him as a show of support. The cousin told the supplier he didn't have the money. The supplier drew a gun, the cousin beat him to the draw, and killed him.

Later, the cousin, then Joe were arrested. The prosecutor offered a separate plea agreement to whomever would testify as to who pulled the trigger. Joe refused to testify. His cousin said, "Joe did it." The cousin got 10 years as an accessory. Joe, 30 years to life.

When I met Joe, he had served 25 years. He was possessed with hatred for his cousin. The third night of the retreat is about forgiveness. We ask retreatants to list those they hold in unforgiveness and then ritually burn the lists.

I was next to Joe when he threw his list with his cousin's, name into the fire. He was tearful and trembling. That evening Joe called his mother and told her he had forgiven his cousin.

She paused and told him his cousin was in the house. He told her to put him on the phone. Joe told his cousin that he forgave him and was at last free from hatred. The cousin broke down in tears.

Joe was reborn that night from above. He experienced a conversion. His act of forgiveness opened his eyes to Jesus being lifted up. Jesus' betrayal and forgiveness opened Joe's eyes to the reign of God and freed him from the burden of hatred.

John's gospel speaks to me of our daily conversion journey. Each day we begin again. We suffer from the illusion that one day we'll arrive and have it all together.

We birth God's spirit anew each day. God's spirit increasing and mine decreasing.

Living no longer, "I", as Paul says, but Christ living in me. As me.

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