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Understanding the Bible: How Can we Love the World and Not Love the World at the Same Time?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Some of the confusion also comes from ways in which the phrase "the world" is used in the New Testament.There is "the world" that God created and looked upon and said "it is good". (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman.  Then there is a system, that culture of death and use, which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols. That system is also called "the world" in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to "love" that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - The beloved disciple John is the author of the last Gospel to be written, the one which bears his name. He also wrote letters to the early Christians during his later years. They are tender, inspiring, rich in practical instruction and well worth regular consumption by anyone who wants to get serious about living the Christian life.

However, as is sometimes the case in understanding the Bible, sometimes an important point really can get lost in translation. After all, the New Testament was written in Greek. We read it in vernacular translations. One such point which too often gets confused concerns our relationship to the world.

That is particularly evident in the first reading of this 6th day in the Octave of Easter:

I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been forgiven for his name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the Evil One. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the Evil One.

Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.  But whoever does the will of God remains forever.
(1 John 2:12-17)

Yet, we read in the most oft quoted text from the Gospel of John that God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son. (John 3:16) So I pose the question - How can we Love the World and Not Love the World at the Same Time? We have to understand the way in which the phrase the world is being used within the biblical context in order to understand how we are called to live our Christian vocation as missionaries in every age. We are in the world but not of this world. (John 15:19)

First, lets clear up some bad teaching which still causes problems among many Christians. Some of the confusion concerning our relationship to the world comes from the remnants of one of the early heresies in Christian history, Manichaeism. The followers of that error believed that matter itself was evil. That is NOT a Christian belief. We profess in our Creed a belief in a bodily resurrection and the coming of a new heaven and new earth!  Yet this error of viewing matter itself as evil, or the body itself as evil, still infects many Christians and can lead to a kind "ghetto mentality" whereby Christians withdraw from the world.

However, some of the confusion also comes from ways in which the phrase "the world" is used in the New Testament.There is "the world" that God created and looked upon and said "it is good". (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman.  Then there is a system, that culture of death and use, which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols. That system is also called "the world" in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to "love" that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion.

We are told to to reject that system which has rejected God and His love - in order to free those enchained by its lies and bring them into the new world which is the Church, the seed of the kingdom to come. The Father still wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. He calls us to love and be good stewards over the created order which reflects his beauty and draws men and women to Him. Those of us who live in jesus Christ are sent on mission into the world. We are called, like the Lord in whose Image we are created, to "love the world" in order to participate in His continuing redemptive mission. 

The power to effect redemptive change in the world in which we live comes from the life of God within us. One of the many images Jesus uses in his parables is that of leaven. (See, e.g., Mt. 13:33) It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread. However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough.

Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but how it transforms that loaf! So it is with Christians within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11)! All we are asked to do is to mix it up. We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used by Him to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.

Leaven or yeast that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough; it must be active or it becomes useless. That leaven must be in the dough in order to effect its extraordinary change. So it is with each one of us. We must be "in the world" to effect its transformation. Once hidden in the loaf, leaven always raises the dough. It also takes human effort - it must be kneaded - and worked into the loaf - but it has extraordinary power within it.

So it is with each one of us as we walk out our daily vocations in living faith. Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. By living in the heart of the Church in the center of the world we bring the world back to God. This kind of missionary mindset has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can once again! However, it always begins one person, one grain, at a time.

The seed of the kingdom, the living Word, has been planted within us. And now, we become the seed, the salt and the leaven for the Divine Sower who continues His redemptive mission in a world waiting to be reborn in Him. He now spreads us in the field of the world to bear a harvest for the Kingdom to come. We are called to live at the crossroads of that world and become missionaries of the new world, of which the Church is a seed and sign.

The Father still loves the world and sends His Son to save it. (John 3: 16)  That work of loving redemption and recreation continues through you and me. He has placed us in the world with redemptive purpose. Jesus now walks into the world through His Body, the Church, of which we are members. We live in the Church and go into the world.

One of the titles that the Fathers of the Church used to describe the Church was that it is the world reconciled. The Second Vatican Council used this phrase and reaffirmed another Patristic Image of the Church as a seed of the kingdom. The Father wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who live in Jesus Christ are sent on mission into the world in order to bring all men and women into the new world of the Church. They are ambassadors of jesus Christ and are called to exercise the power of that Spirit.

Several other biblical images help us to grasp our missionary vocation. For example, in Matthew's Gospel Jesus also uses the image of salt: Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matt. 5: 13 - 16)

The passage calls to mind the words of the Lord, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12) We carry that light into a world which is often steeped in darkness. To bring the light we must be willing to enter the realm where that darkness contends for the hearts of men and women.Every man,woman and child is loved by God the Father and he has tasked us with the mission of bringing them home to Him. 

We have been baptized into Jesus Christ. He now lives His life in and through us - as we live our lives in Him. This is meant to become a reality for us as we live in His Body, the Church, for the sake of the world. The Father still loves the world and still gives His Son to the world to save it and set it free. (John 3: 16)  Now, that gift of His Son is given through you and me as we live out our Christian vocation. Every single Christian is a missionary, no matter what our state in life, career, age or talents. 

In Matthews Gospel Jesus uses other images to communicate this missionary mandate: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened. (Matt. 13: 31 - 33)

We are light and leaven, salt and seed, in a world waiting to be born again. We are spread in the fields of the world and called to fall to the ground and bear fruit for the kingdom. All of these images are meant to bring home the new reality that comes from our discipleship. In the words of St. Jose Maria Escriva: May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)

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