Love and grace reach out to wherever there is need

By  Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J.
  • January 29, 2007
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Jan. 28 (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30)

Where do visionaries, reformers and prophets get their courage and perseverance? Their diaries and writings often reveal that they are quite ordinary people, with all the fears and weaknesses that are part of humanity. Many of them struggle with self-doubt, loneliness and fear. And yet they go on — they stand up for justice and compassion despite the opposition of the world and often their own co-religionists.

No one is immune to this struggle. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and even Jesus had their dark moments of exasperation with the misunderstanding and opposition of others. They sometimes wondered if it was worth it and if they were making any difference. But their perseverance and courage came from their relationship with God. It was God who called them, and it was God who empowered them.

The selection from Jeremiah omits the prophet's resistance to his vocation. He offers excuses; he is too young and no one will take him seriously and he is not a skilled speaker. But God is adamant: this is not about Jeremiah's talents or gifts; it is about fulfilling a mission from God. God has marked out the dimensions of Jeremiah's life even before his birth. Every person born into this world does so with a divine purpose. Our calling is probably not as dramatic as Jeremiah's, but it is no less important. For some, the calling may be specific; for others, more general.

But all are called to leave this world a better place than they found it, and to bring hope and compassion to others. We cannot plead personal deficiencies to flee from this call, because it is God's call.

To be paralysed with fear or self-doubt is a form of unbelief. God will never ask us to do something beyond our capabilities and we will have whatever we need to accomplish our mission.

The most powerful tool in accomplishing our life's purpose is love, and everyone has the potential to love. Paul's famous description of love reveals that it is not something sentimental or romantic — it is eminently practical and even demanding. Paul positions this passage between two sections of the letter that deal with the nature of spiritual gifts. To counter their competitive and possessive attitudes towards spiritual gifts, he offers a "more excellent way." His description of love is a description of what the community at Corinth is not. They are divided by factionalism, competition, selfishness and quarrelling. Paul's definition of love is nothing more than a way of being authentically human, and it was lived out perfectly by Jesus. As a spirituality and way of interacting with others, love is not defensive, selfish or fearful. Love rather than talents, wealth, status or achievements is the hallmark of a successful life. And it is also the bridge linking people of different faiths and belief systems, for it is the essence of all good religion.

And what is the life's work of Jesus? He is engaged in an important part of that work while reading in the synagogue — stretching the minds and hearts of people with regard to their vision of God and humanity. The two stories from Israel's history that He uses to illustrate His point provoke outrage, for they challenge dearly held ideas of God. Jesus insists that God's love and grace do not just flow in the usual well-worn channels of established religion or group membership. The God that Jesus reveals is universal and plays no favourites.

Love and grace reach out to wherever there is need, for God ignores the labels that we humans put on one another. Old ways of thinking about God have caused much human misery and are a major factor in today's religious violence. Jesus' mission was to witness in a dramatic way to a non-violent, compassionate God who transcended all human boundaries and claims. Our own calling as followers of Jesus requires us to witness to the same God in thought, word and deed. This is one of the most important issues of our age.

God is not served — nor is humanity — by slavish adherence to outmoded, dead or dangerous ideas and images concerning God.