Daily Reflection
May 14th, 2008

Robert P. Heaney

John A. Creighton University Professor
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English is a marvelously rich language. It is said that we have half again as many words as French and Spanish combined. But when it comes to “love”, English is impoverished (as is Latin, as well). Greek, which is the language of the New Testament, has three distinct words that are all translated into English as “love”, though they mean very different things. In today’s Gospel Jesus states “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you . . .” John’s Gospel uses the word “love” more times than the other three Gospels combined, and in the first letter of John, we have the Bible’s only definition of God: “God is love” – not “God is a loving person”, but “God is love”. Period.

But “love” doesn’t do justice to the Greek word it translates in these passages. “Love” implies attraction and affection. I, the lover, get something out of the love relationship. The Greek word is better translated as “self-giving”. This self-giving may include some affection as well, but it need not. It is simply utter commitment to the total well-being of another. Read the Gospel again, substituting “self-giving”.

As the Father has given Himself to me, so I have given myself to you. Abide in my self-giving. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my self-giving . . .”

In other words, self-giving sums up the commandments.

And again, in case we didn’t get it:

This is my commandment, that you give yourselves to one another, as I have given myself for you. No one has self-giving greater than this, that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends . . .

How much self-giving? One’s own life is the ultimate measure . . .

And in 1 John, instead of “God is love”, read “God is self-giving” – self-giving among the persons of the Trinity; self-giving in God’s creating the universe; self-giving in the person of God’s son, Jesus; self-giving in Jesus’ not only taking on our humanity, but taking away the power of sin and death by suffering their consequences and triumphing over them.

This simple substitution brings a whole new understanding to these familiar words – and a fresh new challenge. Recall: We are made in God’s image and likeness. Thus we find ourselves – come into our true selves – only in self-giving.

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