Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘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.’
In my ministry I often find myself talking about ‘love’. The context of these conversations is usually during the course of preparing many couples for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. All of those couples come to me with love in their hearts. They may have been together for a long time or just a few weeks. No matter how long their relationship has been growing, they have all reached the point of declaring their love for each other and wanting to turn those expressions of love into a lifelong commitment. It is after establishing the date for the wedding that the serious stuff begins and we begin to explore what ‘love’ really means.
In today’s reading we hear these oft-quoted words: For God so loved the world … That word ‘love’, we are being told, is the driving force behind God’s decision to enter this world some two thousand years ago. That ‘love’ is also at the heart of Jesus’ message to humanity: the love of God and the love of our fellow human beings, both friend and foe! The question is: what is meant by that word ‘love’?
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. In Greek there is not just one word that can be translated as ‘love’, but six. The subtlety of affectionate regard, familial love, self-love, hospitality and sexual passion … all of which we describe as ‘love’ … were given different words in the classical world. There was also the sixth word for ‘love’ … Agápe … which means brotherly love, charity, and the love of God for man and of man for God. This is the type of ‘love’ that is at the heart of the Christian gospel.
God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to share in the totality of the human experience, from birth to death. Furthermore, we are told why God took this dramatic step in the course of human history: in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus came and lived among us in order that we might see the power of self-sacrificial love, in order that we might learn to live in the same way and thus bring about God’s ambition for this world.
We are all well acquainted with Jesus’ teaching on our need to love God and neighbour, but those commands being ‘well-known’ does not make them any easier to obey. We struggle with the idea of living a life in which we offer unconditional love to anyone. Even those couples, in the first flush of love and romance, struggle with the notion of loving without the guarantee of a measurable return. And as for loving our enemies and our persecutors … !
Let us pray that we might come to know the profound nature of God’s love for us. Let us pray that we might come to demonstrate just a little of that divine love in the way we live out our daily lives. Let us pray that we might never give up in honouring God’s love for us as we strive to share that love with others … even our enemies.