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Spiritual Reflection on the Day of Pentecost

Loving Back

Do you love me?—John 21: 17

What does the Bible reveal to us about the nature of God and how we are to live our lives?

First, God loves us. A simple statement, but think of its power! The great God of the universe—the Creator of all that is seen and unseen—is a God of love, a God who loves each one of us as the unique, quirky, individual persons we are. God showers us, surrounds us with love. Even in our times of deepest trouble, in the face of our greatest fear, God is with us. 

We Christians believe the supreme manifestation of God’s love is the person we call Jesus Christ. This is the message of John 3:16, the most quoted verse in the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Put another way, God is a love affair and through Jesus Christ we are brought into the ever-flowing love of God for humankind.

Second, we are free to accept or reject God’s love. God wants to be in a loving relationship with us, but it is our free choice, our decision, whether or not to commit to that relationship. If we do accept God’s love, we freely acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our lives. This loving relationship is not a relationship of equals, mind you; it is a relationship between a loving Creator and a beloved creature, between a loving sovereign and a beloved subject.

Third, if we accept God’s love for us, we are to love God back. Once we have accepted the reality of God’s loving presence in our lives, the Spirit of God dwells within us in a new and powerful way. In the words of Father Tim, “we’re truly alive for the first time.” Fully alive, we are to share the love of God with all our sisters and brothers. 

In the gospel of John, the risen Christ appears before the apostle Peter and asks, “Do you love me?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus says to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And a second time Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” Yet again Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” When Peter says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” Jesus replies, “Feed my sheep.” 

How are we to love God back? Jesus teaches that whenever we minister to those who are most in need of love, we manifest our love for God. We love God back, says Jesus, by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 

Here is the essence of the scriptural revelation of the nature of God and how we are to live our lives: “I love you,” says God. We then are to respond with all we have and all we are, “I love you back.”

Rawls, James J.. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. WestBow Press. Kindle Edition. 

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