"I love you because..."

Jesus initiated exactly one act in Luke’s gospel prior to the Father proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). That one act was not a pleasing act to Mary and Joseph. He cost them three days of worry by remaining at the temple while they began their return to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52).

We don’t have an accounting of the rest of Jesus’ first 30 years. We assume, because of his divinity, that he was remarkable, but none of the gospels tell us that. Those years were typical enough to not be reported.

If we take Luke’s gospel, then, as given, the Heavenly Father’s love and approval of the Son weren’t about deeds performed. They were not contingent on his actions. The Father’s love and approval simply were.

That’s hard for us to accept or give.  We speak of unconditional love, but are always at risk of making it transactional and temporary. “I love you because you…” fill in the blank with the actions or characteristics that are appreciated, but could end at any time. 

It’s a good idea to be specific when appreciating the good someone has done or something admirable about someone. “I like the way you…” “Thank you for…” 

Similarly, I’d be glad for the Holy Spirit to say to me, “That was good. Well done on that. I like the way you,” but I would not want to hear from God, “I love you because of (that moment of obedience or good action)” because I know I’m susceptible to an equal moment of disobedience or bad action. If God’s love for me was approval based, I’d be anxious all the time about proving myself to God, which would not lead to life-giving joy, but life-draining fear. That’s not how I was parented or want to parent. I certainly don’t think that’s how our Heavenly Parent treats us.

I look at Luke’s gospel and give thanks that what he reports is that before Jesus did anything deemed noteworthy, God was already expressing unconditional love. His word to Jesus, and I believe to us, is not “I love you because…” or “I love you for…” It’s “I love you.”