Saturday, December 03, 2005

Learn That I Have Loved You

This is something that the risen Lord said to the members of one of his faithful churches in the Book of Revelation (3:8-13). He was encouraging them in the face of persecution by their enemies. But it is something we have to learn too, and learn well.

Though Advent is not the most appropriate time for meditating on the Passion of Christ, I recently happened to come to that section of the Gospel in my consecutive readings. I experienced a very fruitful meditation, a moment of grace (an extended “moment,” for it lasted several hours). I intend to write at length about this mystery, but probably not until Lent. For now, there are just a couple things I’d like to share.

The first is that we really have no idea how much Jesus loves us. It will take a lifetime of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures even to scratch the surface, to begin to comprehend. His love for us is not merely an excess of feeling, beyond what we are capable of feeling. It is manifested in what He has done for us, sacrificed for us, endured for us. Read carefully through the Gospel narratives of the Passion. See how Jesus knew what He was going to suffer for us, how He embraced it and went towards it willingly, despite the terror that seized Him in the garden. He gave us his precious Body and Blood for our spiritual sustenance; think of what He felt when all of his chosen apostles forsook Him and fled in his hour of need.

Jesus knew what He was doing, why He was enduring it all. He loved you, so He let them spit in his face for you (not only enduring this for you, but they spit in his face “for you,” that is, in anticipation of your doing the same through your sins—I share the guilt with you, and I have wept over it, but you have to hear the “you” to know that He did it not for generic “humanity” but for you and me personally). He loved you, so He let them strike Him across the face, mock Him, drive thorns into his head and strike Him again—so that you would not have to pay the ultimate and eternal price for your sins. He accepted the scourges and the nails for you, and He forgave you for rejecting Him and crucifying Him. He entered into an agonizing desolation such as no human being will ever experience in the way He did: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” He did that for you. Learn that He has loved you.

We must begin to forgive as Jesus has forgiven. We think perhaps that because He was divine it was easy for Him. It wasn’t. But He wanted to do it; his everlasting love compelled Him. We are like the official who was forgiven a huge debt and then refused to forgive a pittance that was owed him (Mt. 18:23-35). But others must learn that we love them (or are trying to love them) as Jesus does. We cannot stop short of this, after all He has endured to forgive us out of the abundance of his love.

All too often, people (even Christians) find ways to criticize or complain about God: his “silence,” his “absence,” his seeming inability or unwillingness to clean up our messes and make all things right in the world. He loves us even in our blind ignorance, in our own inability to perceive his presence and the wisdom of his plans for us. It is not right for us to require Him to fix everything we’ve broken—while we still rage at Him in our obtuse stubbornness and refusal to open up to his grace and truth. Before we think we have reason to rage at God, we must learn what He has done for us out of love, while suffering for our sins. He stood there, loving us, while we denied and betrayed Him, forsook Him and fled from Him, insulted, tortured and killed Him. If we do not acknowledge this with profound repentance, the world will continue to self-destruct. But floods of grace, peace, and divine love are just barely restrained, waiting for us to open our eyes and hearts, to confess our betrayals and then receive his infinite, merciful love. He is ready to renew the face of the earth.

Learn that He has loved you, that He goes on loving you. Do not wait a moment longer to rush to Him in love and gratitude, offering yourself to Him who has offered Himself for you. For you. He waits, quietly, yet with all the impatience of a rebuffed Lover. The wounds we have given Him are so deep that He will manifest them for all eternity—not as a reproach of our wickedness, but as a testimony of his love. He considered that those wounds were worth bearing—for you. He bears them as precious and glorious jewels, for they drew from his pierced heart those eternally-resounding words: “Father, forgive them…”

To forgive is to love. And God is love. Go now to Him. You will know what to say…