Father Donald Senior, CP

Love conquers everything

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31— 13:13; Lk 4:21-30

As you may know, there is a rationale behind the selection of the Scripture readings each Sunday. The editors of the Lectionary begin with the Gospel selection (this coming year taken from the Gospel of Luke) and then try to match a reading from the Old Testament that echoes the message of the Gospel text. The second readings, on the other hand, are drawn from the letters of Paul or one of the other New Testament letters and run sequentially each Sunday.

So in this Sunday’s set of readings, the powerful prophetic message of Jesus announced at the beginning of his mission in the synagogue of Nazareth is matched with the opening words of the Prophet Jeremiah who traces God’s call for him to be a prophet back before he was formed in his mother’s womb.

But, random as it may be, I find an even more intriguing link this Sunday between this Gospel and the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We hear today what may be one of the most beloved and often quoted passages from Paul’s letters — the famous “hymn to charity.” If there was a contest about which biblical passage is read most frequently at weddings, this beautiful passage would win hands down!

We all remember how it goes — here is part of this exquisite passage: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Paul’s conclusion is equally compelling: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

One of the striking qualities of Paul’s description is that it does not sink into sentimentality but rather speaks of genuine love that works hard to reach out to the other and not be absorbed in our own needs. So it speaks of love being patient and enduring; as not being jealous, or rude or quicktempered, or brooding over injury. True love, Paul declares, “does not seek its own interests.” This is a description of love as it has to be lived every day.

Here is where I see the link between this passage from Paul and the Gospel story of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth. His hometown crowd was demanding that Jesus take care of his own town first and foremost: “Doubtless you will say to me,” Jesus declares, “‘Physician, cure yourself. Do here in your native place, the things we heard were done in Capernaum!’” Jesus, however, had a different view. He was called to bring his mission of mercy and healing beyond the narrow confines of his own familiar village. The Spirit of God lavished on Jesus suffused him with profound love, love that “did not seek its own interests” but would reach out to those who were vulnerable. And so Jesus reminds his hometown congregation of the example of the great prophets Elijah who cared for a widow facing starvation in Lebanon and Elijah’s successor Elisha who cured the Syrian official Naaman. Each of these great Jewish prophets reached out beyond the confines of their own circle and brought healing and comfort to those in need.

Some commentators have speculated that when Paul was composing his exquisite description of authentic love that he was in fact drawing a word portrait of Jesus himself who is love incarnate. In these Sunday readings we contemplate the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus — to lead lives filled with a spirit of love.


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