- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories GOOD NEWS: Our Need to Hear It Again and Again
“Wash your hands.” How many times have we heard our mothers saying this? It seems it takes a long time for things to sink in for us. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, this advice appears to be coming home to us. Over the past year, we have heard it often and we might have noticed that even though Covid-19 continues among us, we have had fewer colds and less of the standard flu. Although it took a long time for us to accept this, I guess Mom was right.
“God loves us unconditionally.” This appears to be hard for us to accept, but it is in fact one of the central pieces of our Christian faith. Right from the beginning it has been expressed in many prophet voices and in a variety of ways, but it has not fully sunk in.
In the ancient town of Ephesus), a committed Christian of the 1st century expressed this belief eloquently in the Letter to the Ephesians as part of a summary of Christian faith. The writer declared: “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – for it is by grace that you have been saved.” (Eph.2;4-10) It might help for us to know that “grace” refers to a share in God’s divine life, and that it is a free gift of God. We do not earn or win it. God gives it freely to all.
The same message comes to us in John’s Gospel. Jesus encounters a Pharisee who is marked by both his faith and his questions – a true seeker. In so many ways Nicodemus is us, for true faith involves constant seeking to delve deeper. Faith seeks understanding.
In the conversation with Nicodemus reveals a Jesus assists him in his seeking. The centerpiece of Jesus’s response is the consoling wonder of God’s great, unconditional love for us all: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only-begotten 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.” (John 3:16-17)
Christians down through the ages have encountered this loving God in their daily lives. The Trappist monk and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton (1915-68) recalled his own experience. Standing on a busy street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, in the midst of a crowd, he looked around and realized he loved all of them and that they loved him. He recounted this as a vision of God’s love reflected in each and every person: “It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander 1966)
Pope Francis often expresses this vision of God, calling us to reflect it throughout the world. It is our mission as disciples to do so. Moved by the example of St Francis of Assisi, he shared it in his recent encyclical letter: “[St. Francis] calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance…. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brother and sisters all.” (“Fratelli tutti” 2020, 1,8)
“Wash your hands” and “God loves us unconditionally” – tough to accept, but wisdom that is significant for us. From Jesus and his disciples to Pope Francis in our own day the message of God’s constant love has been the foundation of our Christian faith. It is a blessing of hope for us all and call for us to share in peace with all we encounter – truly, GOOD NEWS for our world.