'This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased'
A funny story I once heard a priest tell was of his childhood. In his kitchen was a small framed print with the three words ‘GOD SEES YOU’. It was in the course of an afternoon that the sign took on huge significance. Coming in to the kitchen his mother, nowhere to be seen had just baked a delicious cake. He turned the cake upside down and took a morsel from underneath and put the cake right side up again to conceal his crime. It was just at that moment when he had stuffed his mouth that he once more saw those three words ‘GOD SEES YOU’ that he felt caught red-handed. The game was up! For a long time that image of God as a judge ready to point out his shortcomings and always on the prowl as it were, stayed with him. It was only much later that he realised that God’s look was a look of love! His attitude to God was immature – 'be good or else', possibly reinforced by parents, older siblings and teachers.
This is a false or distorted image. Yes, God is a judge, but He is mercy itself. He loves us first and foremost. Perhaps the best way to summarise it is to contrast the statements ‘keep God’s commandments, and ‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’ The latter statement consists of the words of Jesus Himself. To obey him out of love for Him is totally different to mere subservience, and keeping the rules for their own sake.
Another anecdote: a psychiatrist I once spoke to (not professionally I hasten to add) mentioned that all his patients had a similar underlying problem: they could not accept that they were lovable or that they were deserving of love. Add to the mix their false belief that God could possibly love them without their earning or meriting it. Their life problems, addictions and compulsions lead them to a strange cocktail of excessive self-love and subsequent self-hatred for their actions. It was their own warped understanding and experience of love received that was conditional that set them down a road of misery. Of course on the road to recovery they must accept responsibility for their actions as adults while addressing the underlying causes of their wrong choices.
Do we accept that we are loved by God?
That He loves us first and above all?
That God could possibly love us that God could possibly love me in my misery?
God can only love - it is His nature – constant love abiding – not like any human love with all its terms and conditions. As the sun by its nature gives out light and heat, so God is by His nature (He can’t help but be) love and mercy itself.
It does not mean that love has no demands, that we sit around passively sun-bathing, basking in God’s love - although we ought to do that sometimes!
It is only when we have received love - in a felt experienced way - that we can give it or share it, without terms and conditions. I think it was St John of God who said: ‘where you do not find love present, put love there and it will emerge’. The great saints often loved others without any love in return. Christ Himself is the model of love when He died for us sinners to set us free from sin and promise that we might have life in abundance. The portrait if love is Christ crucified. Christ’s love emanated from his love for and with the Father; ‘as the Father has loved me so I have loved you.’ Christ in his humanity experienced the receiving of love in a human - as well as a divine - way. He teaches us what it is to be truly loved by God the Father. The quality of our love for God (our relationship – fuelled by prayer) improves when our image of Him does, and our love for others takes on a newer deeper dimension when we know what it is to be loved for our own sake and without ‘terms and conditions’.
Finally it is in today’s Gospel scene of the Baptism of Jesus where we hear the words: ‘Behold my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’, that we realise that these words apply equally to us, the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father who says to you and to me: ‘you are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter’.
Do we dare to believe it?
Do we dare to live out the implications of this love - that this love is meant for all our brothers and sisters In Christ? That we are to live and love in the blissful knowledge that we are loved? That we have done nothing to earn it or deserve it but that it is also indestructible? That is it we who in fact have often strayed from this love?
It is when Jesus is at prayer that these words are uttered. May our own prayer lives and experiences grow in the Year of Faith. May the Father ‘find us’ in prayer, and in that prayer time may we experience His love.
Our mission – to love, like Jesus, is therefore only just beginning.