Sunday, February 3, 2013

God's Unfailing Love

When children first learn about God, they can believe that he created all things and that he is everywhere at the same time. What they have trouble believing is that God knows every single person on earth by name. It is just too much for their little brains to comprehend. And when you tell them that not only does he know everyone who is living now, he knows everyone who ever lived and everyone who will ever live in the future, you might think that their heads would explode. However, as they get over the shock of realizing God's vast knowledge and power, it is a joy to see their eyes open with wonder when it begins to sink in that God knows each one of them personally, by name. They then begin to realize that God not only knows them but loves them.

It is important for us every now and then in prayer to ponder over this simple but profound fact. God knows each of us by name. He knows every detail of our lives. He knew us before we were even born. He knew us in our mother's womb, and he knows us now. Why is he so interested in us when he has a whole universe to watch over? Very simply, because he loves us. His love for us is the one thing that can never change in our lives.

Today's first reading is taken from the beginning of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is being called by God to be a prophet at a time of much corruption in Israel. He knows that it is going to be a struggle speaking God's truth to the nation's power brokers. He knows that he will be ridiculed, persecuted and maybe even killed. God does not assure Jeremiah that it will be easy or that people will listen to him. Instead, he tells Jeremiah that he knew him in his mother's womb, and that he will always be with him. That knowledge that God is always by his side will give Jeremiah the courage and strength to speak the truth to the people, to shoulder their ridicule and rejection and to face his own death. His confidence is not in himself. His sense of security does not come from whether or not people like and accept him. Rather he needs nothing else than to know that God loves him and is with him.

In the gospel proclaimed today, Jesus is preaching in his hometown of Nazareth. One would think that it would be the safest place for him to be, among those who have known him since he was a boy. But his words meet with opposition even there. In fact, the people are so incensed by his message that they drag him out to the edge of the town to throw him off the cliff. But Jesus calmly walks away. He knows that God is with him, that it is not his time to suffer and die, and that his Father would not allow a hair on his head to be harmed until the time was right. Any of us would have been devastated to have our friends reject us as Jesus' friends rejected him. Though Jesus was no doubt hurt by them, he was not devastated. The source of his identity and confidence did not come from the esteem of the people of Nazareth. Rather it came from the Father's love for him. Knowing that he could never be separated from that love gave him the courage to labor on preaching the good news even in the face of such hostility.

Where do we place our security? Where do we draw confidence from? If our security and confidence are not based on God's love for us, then they are misplaced. There is nothing else on earth that we can count on as surely as God's love for us. Our money eventually runs out. Our loved ones eventually die and leave us. Our health gets weaker as we age. When all is said and done, it is only God's love that is constant in our lives.

Our society is suffering from an epidemic of anxiety. Our world feels unbalanced, and fear can so easily creep into our minds and hearts. We have placed our confidence in money, relationships, our talents and our health, and realized just how shaky all those foundations can be. When we sense that fear is nipping at our heels, it is time to turn to our Heavenly Father and reaffirm our faith that he is in control of our lives. It is time to put our confidence in his unfailing love. Such an attitude will not solve our problems. But it will give us the confidence to face them and the perspective necessary to not be overwhelmed by them.

Our second reading today is one of the most popular in all the New Testament. It is Saint Paul's song of love. The love which Saint Paul describes, however, is not an emotional love full of drama as we might see on a soap opera. Rather it is the love of Christ displayed in all its glory on the cross. God loved each of us so much that he sent his beloved Son to die for us. If God has loved us so much, he will do all else for us besides. And we can never lose that love. No matter what we may have done in our lives, no matter how far off we may have drifted, God always calls us back to him. We can count on God to forgive us and to put behind us whatever sins we may have committed. The one thing we can count on in life is God's forgiving love.

God knows each of us. He knows every detail of our lives. He knows what we need before we ask. He knows our future, and he knows our past. Why would rely on anything or anyone else when the God who created the universe loves us so passionately and so completely? How could we ever doubt that everything will be okay when God himself is watching over us?

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