Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast 2017
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1
The three Epistles of Saint John the Evangelist echo the words of his Gospel. In the Prologue of his Gospel we read on the Day of Pascha:
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) These words also echo in the Epistle of Saint Paul to Galatians, which we heard on Christmas: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (4:4-7)
I would imagine that one of the hardest things for a parent is to see their child suffer. To think perhaps that your child suffers because of their own error might be harder still. To think that your child thinks that they should suffer is perhaps the hardest of all. God, our Father, has many children. We are told that there are over seven billion of us presently on Earth. That’s a lot of children. We are told that He knows the numbers of hairs on our heads. That’s a lot of hairs.
We are told that He loves us individually and intimately and unconditionally. That’s a lot of love. We are told to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. We are also told: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Can we read the commandment to love by beginning with self-love? God loved us first. That means we are lovable. God shows us how to love. That means we are capable of loving. God wants us to love one another as we love ourselves. That means we are supposed to start by loving ourselves, caring for ourselves, being attentive to ourselves, choosing life and happiness for ourselves.
Then we are to love, care for, attend to, and choose life and happiness for others. It is very difficult to hear someone say they deserve to suffer or that they are being punished for not being good enough. Let me say that it is usually people of a certain age and background, but not always. That attitude or outlook grows out of things that were heard and episodes that were experienced, especially in the formative years. Unfortunately, many were good learners and then good teachers of such attitudes and outlook. If God thinks we are lovable intimately, individually, and unconditionally, who are we or anyone else to argue with that?
I have written and spoken about this approach over the years. Some of this philosophy forms the foundation of self-help programs, especially twelve step types. Not everyone is receptive to those. Not everyone is ready to attempt to re-parent or re-program themselves. Perhaps some are just too old and set in their thinking. How different might our lives be if we considered ourselves lovable and then did just that. Think about it. Try it.
The writer is a priest of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.