God So Loved the World. What Are We Supposed to Do About It?

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On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent are: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137:1-6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

I’ve seen it on signs in sports arenas, on billboards near the highway, and even on a restaurant menu.  It’s a statement of belief and an invitation to discipleship.  I think it could even be considered a good one-sentence summary of our Christian faith.  I’m referring to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John makes an audacious claim, but one that makes our faith worth living – God is intensely and irrevocably in love with us!  To demonstrate this great love, God actually became human to be nearer to us, to share our hardships and joys, and to teach us how to experience the fullness of life.  To use Pope Francis’ words, there is no truer example of the shepherd wanting to smell like the sheep as this Good Shepherd!

To better understand today’s reading from John’s Gospel, I encourage you to read his first epistle, especially chapter four.  John makes many profound observations about the nature of God and of love, but one particularly bold statement stands out:  “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… for whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”  As LGBT Catholics and allies, I think we need to sit with these words for a long time because they have dramatic and far-reaching implications for us.

I believe the Gospel calls us to love not just those in the LGBT community, but also the people who oppose LGBT rights in our church and civil society.  Not to politely ignore them or even just tolerate them, but really love them.  As John notes, if we do not love our anti-gay brothers and sisters, then our claims to love God are false and hollow.  I’m not saying that we should allow bigotry to go unchallenged.  Nor do I suggest that we should expect much love in return.  But I do think that we should strive to regard those who disagree with us as our brothers and sisters, not as our enemies, and treat them as we would our own siblings.  That means offering our compassion, our patience, and a bit of education to them.

But, in practical terms, what does this look like? I think of the scene from the film In Good Conscience where Sr. Jeannine Gramick approaches some anti-gay Catholic protesters on the street.  She smiles, greets them, introduces herself, and after listening to their concerns, shares why she supports LGBT rights.  She shares some of her experiences in ministry with LGBT people.  You can actually see the protesters’ hostility melt away during the conversation.  Perhaps Sr. Jeannine provides us with a model of loving our brothers and sisters through compassionate listening and sharing of stories.

As we continue our Lenten journey, I will keep in mind a quote attributed to Mother Teresa:  “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”  May we write in big bold letters that each person is a beloved child of God.  And may we strive to love one another more perfectly each day, just as God loves us.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

7 thoughts on “God So Loved the World. What Are We Supposed to Do About It?

  1. Ryan Sattler March 15, 2015 / 5:56 am

    Peace be with you! Thank you Matt for your gentle and loving commentary on today’s reading! God so love us that … Can our love be any less. It is not only the anti LGBTQ people that you call us to love but our world is challenging us to choose love vs. hate each day. You say it is not easy but I ask what is our alternative? Hatred, war, isolation, fear? That’s not life. We must try to love as God so loved us!

  2. Stephen March 15, 2015 / 11:14 am

    Yes, you are right — but to an extent. Funny, because I recently tried engaging in dialogue and a sit down meeting with a very conservative evangelical pastor in my neighborhood to talk about this issue. However, there comes a point where someone becomes very toxic, arrogant, bigoted, hateful and prejudice and then the conversation is over. Both people have to want this in order for it to work. They may agree to disagree, but they have to want to respect one another. If not, you will be doing violence to yourself and then possibly to them in retaliation. Be very careful how you proceed is my advice.

  3. amagjuka March 15, 2015 / 11:58 am

    Yes, I agree that we must love everyone, even when we do not agree. But since the 70’s it has struck me that my group–love everyone, tolerate all views–is playing a different game. The “other side” wants to legislate their views. They want to restrict, jail, and sometimes kill people (“death to gay” laws). So listening, talking, communing all have a place, to change hearts and minds, or at least to understand one another. But there is a time to act firmly to stop bad laws, to stop bullying, marginalizing, isolating, firing, and even killing. I used to say to my toddler, “I love YOU, but I can’t let you hit. Hitting hurts.” I am not equating those against LGBT rights to toddlers, but they DO hurt people with their unjust rules, laws, and antiquated ideas. I love the conversations and sharing. But I would like systemic change even more.

  4. amagjuka March 15, 2015 / 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the warning/advice. I have been engaged with social rights issues for many years, and have had countless conversations with those who disagree. It is my experience that many can be civil on the outside, while working doggedly for legislation that would cement their views into laws for all to follow. Changing hearts and minds will be the real solution, through the power of the Holy Spirit. But until then, I don’t see anything wrong with saying, “I love you, but I cannot let you hit. Hitting hurts.” Maybe we should all be ourselves, and in prayerful reflection do what we think God wants us to do. I am sure that is what people who legislate against LGBT people do–follow what they think God requires of them. Some of us may feel it is our role to say, “NO!” This may be the messy church Pope Francis calls for.

  5. Believe in God March 23, 2015 / 9:27 am

    Jesus tells us that we are to love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds and to love our neighbor as He loves us. This is the challenge for Christians today. To love as Jesus loves us. How did He love us, by sacrificing His life, by obeying His Father’s Commandments and Will. And if we are to be His Disciples, then we too must do the same. “If you love me, you shall keep my commandments!” In one radical twist, Jesus now makes one clear connection between love and obedience. In John’s Gospel, faith and obedience to Jesus’ commands have been deepened and raised to the level of love. Christians are indeed required to love, and in fact to love the Lord. But loving the Lord ultimately demands obedience to the commandments. Love is not just a matter of subjective feelings. Love is never a license for anarchy or whimsical behaviour. Love does not mean one is free of moral obligations. On the contrary, love has an objective content, it possesses an essential ethical quality to it, one which demands obedience to God’s commandments.

    All sin is an exercise in disobedience to God’s word and commands. We view obedience as a forced, unwilling decision to do something we don’t want to do because we’re afraid of punishment. But that’s not the kind of obedience that’s found in scripture. Today, Jesus reminds us – love involves obedience – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It always starts with love. Obedience comes from knowing that God loves us and that we love Him in return. It’s not about blind submission, but about loving trust.

    The Gospel calls us to develop a rigour of obedience to the Word and to commands of our Lord. What does that mean? In practical terms what that means is for us to prayerfully work on deepening our relationship with the Holy Spirit. In daily exercise terms it means to devote ourselves to the reading of Scriptures, to prayer, and to making frequent use of the sacramental channels of grace, especially the Eucharist and Penance. In living a sacrificial life of love it means putting the needs of others before yourself, forgiving others immediately, and always desiring to draw closer to Christ. How do we draw closer to Christ and to God? Well, Christ provides the answer, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” It is impossible to be obedient to God without loving Him, and it is impossible to love God without being obedient to Him. And it is grace that knits both obedience and love together in perfect harmony.

    St. Therese of Lisieux (of the Child Jesus/the little flower) said, “Jesus, grant me the grace never to offend you anymore or rather, never to commit any faults but those which do not offend you or do not give you pain- faults which serve but to humble and strengthen me in my love.”

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