Jesus continues his conversation with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel from John. In the opening verse, Jesus outlines why he came into the world: “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” (Jn 3:16). God has created us out of love and shepherds us out of love. God loves what he has created, and in his order and timing he sent his Son to enter humanity to become one with us. Jesus meets and loves us even in the depths of our greatest sin, and invites us to come out of the shadows and dark recesses of turning in on ourselves, of living in fear and sin. He invites and encourages us to come into the warmth and radiance of his light to be healed and to come home to God.
Loving means to risk being rejected. Jesus entered humanity as we all did, in the utter vulnerability of the womb. His very life was at risk from the moment of his conception. Mary, a young woman, betrothed to Joseph, in a time and culture in which a woman found to be with child, not from her husband, could be stoned to death. Mary could have made a different choice, Joseph could have made a different choice, but both of them chose to follow the will of God. They resisted the temptation to close in upon themselves and make an isolated decision based on their own needs, anxieties, and fears. While of all of creation held its collective breath, Mary and Joseph trusted God, they chose the light, they chose to protect the life, the life of the Son of God.
“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” (Jn 3:18). Jesus did not come to condemn, he came to redeem, to save, to love us into eternity. This love is not an imposition, but an invitation. For love to be real, it must be truly free. Free to the full extent that it can be rejected. To love is to risk rejection. Otherwise, what is experienced by the other is coercion, manipulation, pressure, but it is not love. The Son of God entered the womb of Mary risking rejection by her, Joseph, and/or their extended family. The only difference between Jesus in the womb and Jesus who ministered to those on the margins was that he was smaller and more vulnerable. Those who, like Mary and Joseph, believe will come to have eternal life, and those who do not have already been condemned, not by God but by themselves.
Those rejecting God have been invited to receive his love also, but for reasons they may or may not be aware of say no. We who follow Jesus are to be his presence of love among those we encounter, even those who shy away or reject him. We may be the only Bible someone ever reads. We are not to protect only the vulnerability of the unborn, but the born as well. We as Christians are not just pro-birth, but we are also pro life, meaning that each of us has a charism of who we are called to reach out to and touch with the love of Jesus, to be present to those who God brings into our life. We can think, speak, and act by respecting the dignity of each person we encounter, in person and online, supporting a consistent ethic of life from the moment of conception until natural death, and for each unique gift of a person’s development and growth in between.
“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” (Jn 3:16). We, even in our brokenness, imperfections, and sin, are loved as we are by Jesus. We are free to reject or accept his love, but as Pope Francis wrote: “We are called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.”
Love is not something abstract, it is very concrete. Love is our willingness to will the good of the other as other. As we receive and experience the love of Jesus, we are called by this love and sent by Jesus to love every person we encounter in our realm of influence, as he loved us, person to person. No one is other from God’s perspective. If there are those that we might not necessarily include in everyone, may we be willing to allow Jesus to love them through us, until we can see them as God sees us, as a child of his, loved more than we can ever imagine!
Photo: My maternal grandparents, Helen and Bernard Morcus, models of love
Link for article on Gaudete et Exultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”):
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, May 1, 2019: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050119.cfm