The Judaeo-Christian tradition sees the whole of creation as God’s beloved handiwork, so it is not surprising to find that love has a central place in all four gospels. In the synoptics, Jesus incarnates God’s love by reaching out to the poor and despised members of the society of his time, and by performing miracles of healing and compassion. Through parable, word and action, he teaches that love of God is inseparable from love of neighbour, emphasises the importance of generosity to those in need, and says that his followers must love not only friends and family, but enemies too. In Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, in eight brushstrokes, an amazingly vibrant portrait of Jesus is drawn, giving clarity and definition to the features of the person whom Paul calls ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15).
And that unseen God is a God of love: Jesus’s contemporaries saw how he took the side of the excluded, the disreputable, the unimportant; how he comforted the sorrowful and healed the sick; how he stood up for what is right and just; how gentle and kind he was, how open and honest; how compassionate he was to those in any kind of need or distress, bringing peace to troubled hearts; how he forgave even those who hated him and wanted to kill him. Gradually, Jesus’s close followers came to realise that this is what God is like: ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known’ (John 1:18).