- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories: Earning God’s Love?
John’s Gospel tells a story of Jesus visiting the Temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-25). The Gospel relates the story as a lead into seeing our relationship with God in a new light. In Israel, the Temple was the sign and symbol of God’s presence in their midst. As Jesus speaks to the people in the Temple, he redirects their attention from the physical building to himself, as the Temple.
The Gospel account points out that this all came to make sense to the disciples after the Resurrection. Jesus then, becomes the sign of God’s loving presence among us. He represents a new way of seeing our relationship with God. God’s care and love is not dependent on what we offer to God. It is not affected by sacrifices we might present. It is not the result of bargaining with God. Our relationship with God is a free and unconditional gift from God. We do not have to earn or win God’s love and we cannot lose it. It is always there for us. This is a remarkable discovery, a great surprise.
Even in the Old Testament, this is the relationship between God and God’s People, Israel. It was not always apparent to this People, but it was there nonetheless. Israel saw itself in a covenant relationship. God called them as a people to be God’s own. They in return lived according to the law and in doing so, they had a fuller, happier life as special to God and caring for each other.
The relationship we see in the Old Testament appears to be one in which, like all covenants or alliances, each side promised something to the other in exchange for their bond with each other. That is, they appear to be bargaining. But can this happen between two very unequal parties? In this case, the relationship between God and Israel is indeed unequal – between the divine and the human.
The covenant of the Old Testament is in fact unusual. The relationship results from the free gift of God’s love to this People. Over the course of the Old Testament, we learn of this quality of free gift again and again. No matter how many times Israel drifted from God, God continued to reach out in love for them. They could not live this love, nor could they lose it.
The great expression of God’s love comes in the New Testament, with Jesus. Jesus proclaims it a little further on in John’s Gospel as describes Jesus in conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He says to Nicodemus: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,…” (John 3:16).
The piece we hear today in the Gospel reading comes earlier in the Gospel, but it presents that same core element of our faith. Jesus is the sign of God’s loving presence for us, the new Temple. Our relationship is not based on our doing something for God. It is not dependent on sacrifice or offering. It is not affected by how we keep rules or commands. It is not the result of some arrangement arrived at by bargaining with God. It is in fact a free gift of God’s unconditional love, a love we do not win, and we cannot lose. Our covenant is a gift, a gift we are called to give away to other.
Reflection Question ~ How might accepting that God loves me unconditionally, affect the way I live?