The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2016 – Cycle C
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13-13; Luke 4:21-30
Do you want a cappuccino, an espresso, a skinny latte, or maybe an iced caramel macchiato? Today’s coffee culture has an incredibly sophisticated vocabulary. “I just want a cup of coffee, please…cream and sugar.”
Regretfully in our language, the variations for the word “love” are not as numerous as for coffee. So “love” is a word I have come to infrequently use. Partly because I’m not sure what it means, like, macchiato. To my mind, its overuse in our culture for so many things and situations has drained it of any real meaning. We toss it off when we depart from acquaintances. We use it for movies we like, restaurants and foods that we highly rate and fashion that makes us feel sexy and exciting. “Making love” is a euphemism for sex which can be loveless, abusive or exploiting. Of course, we love our pets, we love our favourite sport, and theirs the celebrity entertainer, politician or musician who responds to thousands of adoring fans brandishing the Sign Language gesture for “I love you”. And with Valentine’s Day approaching, remember gentlemen, that “Love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru”. We weep and mourn for people like, Princess Diana, whom we have never met – because we love them. Really? Is this what love has become – this shallow façade for advertising and a veneer for relationship?
But isn’t this much of contemporary life? We have moved from face-to-face communities to abstract global societies and from the experience of being mostly known to being mostly unknown.* Deep done we long for the face-to-face experience and of being known but it must be on our terms. So we fool ourselves with the presumption of knowing someone by “friending” them, á la Facebook. And yet how much of that profile is the truth about us or is it the truth we would like to be?
The eminent 19th century Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne was well aware of the depth that relationship could plum when he sharply responded to a parishioner who remarked on his saintliness, “Madame, if you could see in my heart, you would spit in my face.” Who really knows you? Who have you and I trusted to get that close us to see the disfigurement, the failures, the shortcomings, and the sins; the reason to spit in our faces? It is easier to ride the surface, is it not?
Speaking from a personal perspective, “I shall show you a still more excellent way” Paul offers us his great hymn of love but expressed primarily in the negative; what love is not. It is as if he were speaking of “dark matter” which since it cannot be seen with telescopes astrophysicists can only infer about from its effects on visible matter. The argument from the negative makes “dark matter” one of the greatest mysteries of modern astrophysics. Is it the same for the mystery of “love”?
Having eloquence, the gift of prophecy, or extreme generosity have no value, Paul writes, without them having their origin in love. He never definitively or directly says anything about what love is except that it is a more excellent way. He writes this series of “Love is not…” A far cry from Elizabeth Barratt Browning’s: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Rather, Paul dances around the issue avoiding being definite about the meaning of love. While we, on the other hand, are so overly familiar to have love become meaningless.
Life and love become for Paul partial and indistinct. Looking through a window on a rainy day as the blurry world outside droops through the rain drops – nature’s tears streaming down the pane of glass at our attempts at love and life; indistinct and partial.
Indistinct and partial describe the Corinthian community. They were are fractured, broken group of Christians torn apart by jealousies and arrogance; rudeness, grudges and judgement. They were not the body of Christ Paul tongue-in-cheek proclaims them to be. This passage is not a love letter but a mirror held up to a fragmented community. In this letter, Paul unexpectedly drops this seemingly out of place hymn to prod consciences so as to bring about healing and wholeness in the community. How surprised Paul would be to discover that this most challenging hymn to love has become a staple of secular and religious marriage ceremonies.
Partial and indistinct also describe the present situation of our world. Does anyone see clearly? Like a piece of cubist art our world is fractured. And into this situation Paul drops this seemingly out of place hymn to prod our consciences so as to bring about healing and wholeness in the community of our world.
How does a person; how does a Christian person love the world? How do we love a broken world? Remembering that we are part of this broken world
What is this more excellent way that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things?
[*Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness]