In this weekend’s readings at Mass, one major theme runs through all three Scripture passages: God’s incredible love for His people.
In the first reading, from Second Chronicles, we learn that God sent messengers and prophets “early and often” to the nation of Judah, “for He had compassion on His people.” Although they were the recipients of God’s love and care, the people often ignored the Lord and went their own way, which led to lots of trouble. (Hmm, that sounds a lot like us nowadays!)
In this week’s second reading, St. Paul taught that salvation is a free, undeserved gift from God. He wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance.”
We don’t deserve to be saved, but God offers salvation because of His love for us. We then perform good works—loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves—as a natural outpouring of gratitude for being offered the gift of salvation. To clarify a major Catholic-Protestant argument over the centuries, we are not saved BY good works, we are instead saved FOR good works.
Think of it this way: if someone gives you a birthday present, do you accept it joyfully, or do you reach for your checkbook and glumly ask, “OK, how much do I owe you?” How rude! And if the birthday present is worth $100 but you only have $20 in your checking account, this gesture is not only rude, it’s foolish. Since God’s gift of salvation is priceless, how can we possibly pay for it? To think that we can “earn” our way into Heaven by our own efforts is, I hate to be blunt, both rude AND foolish.
Finally, in the Gospel reading this weekend, Jesus offers what is probably the most famous verse in the whole Bible—John 3:16—the one-sentence summary of the entire Good News message: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
God’s love for us is overwhelming and unlimited. Also, it’s remarkable that He loves us at all, since the history of mankind has been a steady stream of selfishness, ingratitude, hypocrisy, cruelty, idolatry and apostasy. If you’re not convinced, just read the morning paper each day for the next few weeks. Frankly, I were God (and let’s all offer a heartfelt “Thank God!” that I’m not), I would have given up on mankind a long time ago.
But God does love us. So much so, in fact, that He gave His one and only Son to pay the ultimate price for our sinfulness—Jesus, the sinless lamb, nailed to the cross as an atoning sacrifice.
The only thing we need to “do” to receive this love of God is just that: receive it. All we have to do is accept it, embrace it, believe it. We simply put our faith and trust and hope in God—and that’s it. If we truly accept and embrace God’s love, His Spirit will fill our hearts and our good works surely will follow.
Jesus said “the light came into the world,” meaning the light of God’s truth and love and forgiveness. He then explained that many people “hate the light,” preferring instead the evil and wicked works of darkness. Let’s not make that mistake.
The light of God’s love is shining brightly in the world. Embrace it—embrace HIM—and let His love and peace and joy fill your heart.