God is known by many titles. Philosophers call God "the Supreme Being" and "the Unmoved Mover." Some know God as Creator, the origin of the universe with all its wonders. Those who are struggling to overcome addictions describe God as a "higher power".
However, we who believe that Jesus is the Son of God know him under a different name. In Jesus, God has revealed himself to be Love.
This love has manifested itself in the person of Jesus. He teaches us that the God we worship is not a distant God who looks on the world from afar. Rather he knows each of us by name. He cares for us and sustains us in being. No matter how many times we reject him or push him away, he continues to shower us with his blessings.
The greatest manifestation of his love, however, is that he sent his Son to die for us. Jesus took upon himself the punishment we deserve for our sins so that we could have an active friendship with this God of love. There is no doubt about the truth of the words we hear in today's gospel when Jesus says: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends." And it is in just this way - by laying down his life for us - that Jesus has shown us the greatness of his love stemming from the love of the Father.
Jesus does not stop there, however. He goes on to say that we are to love one another just as he has loved us. It is not enough for us to simply acknowledge or even rejoice in the immense love of God revealed to us in Jesus. We are to imitate that love ourselves by laying down our lives for one another.
While we might think that such a love is too much to ask or impossible for God to expect from us, examples of heroic acts of generosity and forgiveness happen everyday through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
One example of just such a love took place several years ago in California.
Two young men decided to have a drag race down a stretch of road. As they careened down the street at a speed well over 100 miles per hour, a woman with her young daughter in the car turned on to the road. Her car was struck head on by one of the young men, and she and her daughter were killed instantly. The young man was also injured in the crash, but recovered within a few days. He was eventually arrested, convicted and sent to prison.
The woman's husband was distraught at the news of the death of his wife and daughter. He was understandably filled with hatred for the young man who so foolishly and needlessly took the lives of the people most important to him.
However, his rage soon began to consume him. He isolated himself from his family and friends and began drinking heavily. At night, he couldn't get to sleep because the image of the wreckage was constantly on his mind. It was all he could do to continue functioning at his work.
Eventually, he began to realize that his anger toward the young man who killed his wife and daughter was eating him up in side and that the only way to get his life back was to find a way to forgive him. He knew that he couldn't forgive him on his own, and so he got down on his knees and begged God to help him.
It wasn't easy, but the man began to experience his heart changing. He even found it within himself to visit the young man in prison. Through it all, he came to see that the person who killed his wife and daughter himself had a family and friends who loved him. He was not just some nameless punk, but a good kid who did a very stupid thing with tragic results. Unbelievably, the man found himself later showing up at the young man's parole hearing to speak on his behalf.
He found that he was given the power by God to not only forgive this man but to actually love him.
Before we jump to the conclusion that the young man did not deserve to be forgiven or that forgiveness of someone who has hurt us that deeply is too much to ask, let us remember one important fact. It is just such a love which God has revealed to us in Christ. Each of us through our sins is responsible for the death of God's only Son. Yet God has loved and forgiven us nonetheless. We are now called to do the same for each other.
Hopefully it won't take some tragic event like the death of a loved one for us to have the opportunity to show love. We can already show it in smaller ways by going out of our way to give money to a beggar, by listening to a co-worker who is having a rough day or by sitting next to that kid in the cafeteria who nobody likes. Most of the time our witness to the love of Christ will take place in such small ways as these. Nonetheless, the change it will effect both in us and in those we show love to will be great indeed!
Like the man in the story, we cannot show love, generosity and forgiveness even on a small scale without the help of God. That is why we gather here every Sunday - to be reminded of what great love the Father has bestowed on us in Christ and to celebrate that love in the gift of the Eucharist. Then we are empowered to "go in peace to serve God and love one another."