December 12, 2023 // Perspective

Tell Me It’s Real! Contemplating the Love of Christ

As a product of the ’90s, there are certain songs that will come to my mind almost spontaneously. After reading the Gospel for Guadete Sunday about John the Baptist sending his disciples to ask if Jesus was truly the Messiah, I immediately heard in my head “Tell Me It’s Real” by K-Ci and JoJo. With a little imagination, I can picture that was exactly what John was asking Jesus – to tell him that His love and His presence were real. That they would abide with Him and never leave Him alone.

At heart, all of us have that same desire. We all want a love that is ever-present and always faithful. We want a love that abides with us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, a love that will honor us all the days of our life. In short, every human heart is made for perfect and unending unitive love. And as great as even the best marriage is, we know human marriage cannot fulfill the infinite desires of our heart.

C.S. Lewis wisely pointed out that if our desires are greater than the things of this world, then we must be made for something greater than this world. And it’s true! We were made for a love the finite world can’t contain. So, let’s take a second to examine how real the love is that Jesus promises to give.

In His response to John’s questions about the reality of His love, Jesus tells John’s disciples to give Him the message that the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Good News has been proclaimed to the poor. In other words, He tells John: “I am the one who has fulfilled the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah. Yes, my love is real!”

But it doesn’t stop there. Yes, it would be enough for Jesus to manifest that His love has been at work through the prophets even before His coming in the flesh. After all, He is the only Person in history to have loved humanity before His birth. Yet, His love is so extravagant that it doesn’t stop there. After His ascension at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus promises His disciples that He will be with them always (cf. Mt 28:20). How could this be?

John 16:7 gives us the answer. There, Jesus says it is to our advantage that He goes to the Father so that the Spirit will come and be our comforter. To me, it’s one of the most striking passages in all of Scripture. Jesus, the Word made flesh, declares that it is better for us that He ascends to heaven and physically leaves earth so that we can receive His presence through the Holy Spirit. And we know that His Spirit is poured out in abundance at Pentecost, giving birth to the Church as the Kingdom of God on earth.

This also gives us insight to those mysterious words Jesus says to John at the end of the Gospel reading: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt 11:11). Pause and read that passage again. If we take Jesus seriously (which I highly recommend!), He is telling us that we who have been born of water and the Holy Spirit in baptism and now live in communion with the Church (which is the Kingdom of God on earth) are greater than John the Baptist. Obviously, John entered the Kingdom by his baptism of blood, but what we have been given in baptism and in the life of the Church is greater than the gifts given to any of the patriarchs and prophets of old. We have something greater than Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and even David, because we have the almighty, ever-living God not only revealing Himself and communicating with us, but now dwelling in our own human flesh. So instead of simply being Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Holy Spirit has caused God to be in us. In a real way, the everlasting, unitive love that we all desire has already been poured into our hearts.

This is the cause of our joy. This is why we call it Guadete Sunday. It is a day to rejoice that our God has come not only be with us for a time, He has come to be one with us forever. So, yes, you can tell both John the Baptist – and K-Ci and Jo-Jo – that this divine love of Jesus is indeed real!

Father Brian Isenbarger is a Parochial Vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Fort Wayne.

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