In Jesus’ life, he had many conversations with his Father in prayer. At times, we know Jesus’ side of the conversation, what he said. But we don’t have many accounts of what God the Father said to God the Son. There are three times God the Father spoke in audible words that are recorded in the Gospels. And two of them are the same message.
The first time was at Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1.9ff), when God said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I’m well pleased.” The Father said the same thing again at his Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. (Mt 17.1ff)
What I find so compelling about these two words to Jesus is not only what they meant but particularly when they came. The first time we hear God say “I love you” to Jesus at his baptism was immediately followed by forty days of fasting in the wilderness and wrestling with the devil. Right at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus would need those words for sustenance for the next three years.
The second time God said out loud “Jesus is my beloved Son” at his Transfiguration is on the heels of when Jesus finally got explicit and told his disciples he was on his way to Jerusalem to “suffer many things…and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9.21ff). He heard these words right at the beginning of the journey to the cross.
Taking these two pronouncements of love together and considering when they were said, we seem to see that whenever Jesus was setting out with the first steps of obedience to his calling, which would lead through fearsome places, his Father said, “I love you.” We can’t know, but I’d bet during those times when Jesus spent the night praying that a consistent message was, “You are my beloved Son, I’m pleased with you.” Being the beloved of the Father was the foundation of the faithfulness of the Son.
Knowing, past our intellect and beyond words, that we are the beloved of God creates the foundation for our faithfulness too. Jesus knew the Father loved him, the question is, “So do we?”
Thelma Hall reflects, “There remains within us a love that can be awakened by the sheer grace of his love’s desire for us, if we fully accept it. Yet, as we all know, we find this incredibly difficult. Perhaps this is why the observation has been made that most of us seem to assume that union with God is attained by laboriously ascending a ladder of virtues, which finally fashion our holiness and make us fit for him. In truth, the reverse is far more accurate: the great saints and mystics have been those who fully accepted God’s love for them. It is this which makes everything else possible.” (emphasis author’s, Too Deep For Words)
Knowing our belovedness, really knowing it, in the marrow of our bones, sounds easier than it turns out to be. Even someone as esteemed and versed as Henri Nouwen would write, “As I reflect on my own journey, I become more and more aware of long I have played the role of observer. For years I had instructed students on the different aspects of the spiritual life, trying to help them see the importance of living it. But had I, myself, really ever dared to step into the center, kneel down, and let myself be held by a forgiving God?…The journey from teaching about love to allowing myself to be loved proved much longer than I realized.” (The Return of the Prodigal Son)
Jesus knew he was loved, and the last words of his long prayer to the Father show that he wants us to know it’s as true for us too. “I will continue to make known your name, that that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.” (Jn 17.26)
Is your life leading through any fearsome places? Whether we know it or not, whether we feel it or not, and frankly whether or not we believe it, hear this: “You are the Beloved”. I couldn’t agree with Henri Nouwen any more deeply: “My only desire to is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your Being.” (The Life of the Beloved)