Have you ever had a moment in your life when suddenly some concept has become deeper, wider, and clearer? My understanding of the first verse of today’s first reading, “We love because he first loved us,” was such a moment.
It was in my first year of Seminary in a class on the New Testament in Greek. We were reading the First Letter of John, and had come to Chapter 4.
For most of us The King James Version was deeply imbedded in our minds.
1 Jn 4:19 in the K.J.V. says of God, “We love him because he first loved us.” I had accepted that as a true translation. But we had learned that the compilers of the K.J.V. did not have access to the best manuscripts. Those were found later on.
I read that verse in Greek, “We love because he first loved us.” When I found it that same way in the modern English of the R.S.V. the meaning suddenly became deeper, wider, and clearer than it had ever been in the King James Version. I could see how the additional words, “we love him” (i.e. God), were a hindrance to looking beyond loving God to loving others with the love he gives us.
We love because God first loved us. It is because God first loved us that we are able to love. It is God’s great gift of love that enables us to love one another. It was out of that great gift of love, Agape, that God created our first ancestors. He created them, and us, to love one another. (What a poor job we sometimes make of it.)
Father Richard Benson, Founder of the SSJE, wrote a reflection on Psalm 117 in his book The War Songs of the Prince of Peace. I think it applies equally to the First Letter of John, especially the 4th Chapter.
“God is love, the principle of love, the law of love, the strength of love, the joy of love, the purity of love, the illumination of love, the object of love. We must love all in Him and for Him. That is no love which does not come from him and seek His glory as the object in everything so that we may live eternally in His love.” (Loc. Cit. vol. 2 p. 393)
Do these words help you to understand how God wants us to use his gift of love, and to live eternally in his love?
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