“You are my son whom I love,
with you I am well pleased.”
We are familiar with the red-letter Bibles that highlight the words of Jesus. I’d like to see a blue letter edition that highlights the words of the Father. It wouldn’t take much ink. We only hear the voice of God the Father four times in the New Testament. In each case it is the voice of blessing. The Father’s economy of words serves only to magnify their meaning.
The first two times the Father speaks he repeats himself – once at the baptism of Jesus (which is our text this week), and again at the transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:35). The third time we hear the voice of the Father is when Jesus nears the cross and calls out, “Father, glorify your name.” The Father responds, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again” (John 12:28). And finally in Revelation the Father says, “I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
Half of all we hear from the Father is limited to these most elemental words, “You are my son whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” When these words become flesh in our lives we are transformed.
The key to this verse for me is not in the word “love.” After all, if God is love then it sorta makes sense that God would love us. It’s the second part of the verse that stands out: “with you I am well pleased.” St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible translates this phrase with the word “complacent.” To our ears the word “complacent” sounds negative, but it literally means to “dwell with like.” A grassrootsy but fully truthful translation of this verse would be, “You are my son whom I love and I really like you.” Catholic theologian James Alison explores this beautifully in his book, On Being Liked.
Perhaps the greatest of all the miracles is not that God loves us, but that God actually likes us. I am convinced that until “love” matures into “like” it is not complete. When we know ourselves as liked by God, we come to see ourselves, this world, and even God’s love, in a whole new light! In a word, we relax and actually become likeable and capable of great love in return.
When I asked my wife to marry me, I began by saying, “I love you and I really like you.” Take away the “liking” part and I honestly don’t know where we would be today. In the delivery room the first words that each of our boys heard in this world were, “You are my son whom I love and I really like you.” They still let me bless them with these words at bedtime. Last year, at my father’s bedside the day before he died, I felt led to bless him with these words – a son returning the blessing to his father. In turn, he placed his hand on my head (too weak to speak by then) and he silently blessed me in like fashion. I will never be the same.
I don’t know of anything more vital than the blessing of the Father. That is why each day I receive afresh the baptismal blessing when I pray the prayer of the Street Psalms Community. I invite you to pray it with us now.
Father, baptize us again in the sea of your love as we release our useless fears and relax into your mercy. Inside this new love we die to all that is false. By your power made perfect in weakness, awaken us to the mystery of life and speak to us again the truth of our deepest identity hidden in you: “You are my son/daughter whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”