We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
In today’s excerpt from the Gospel, John describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. As a pious Jew, Nicodemus prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence:
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4-5).
Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus, well known to Nicodemus as a Pharisee: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (19:18). Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.