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God's Word on Sunday: Life is about learning how to love

  • January 23, 2022

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Jan. 30 (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30)

Many people agonize over what they should do with their lives, but Jeremiah had no such problem. His life was signed, sealed and delivered by God, who made it clear that refusal was not an option.

God had anointed Jeremiah a prophet to the nations even before his conception. It would not be easy; he would be opposed by all, and his life would be constantly threatened, but he would persevere. Despite Jeremiah’s protestations of youth, inexperience and lack of eloquence God had endowed him with incredible strength and authority. He had no excuse and God gave him a verbal shove into the battle. Jeremiah would have to tell people what they did not want to hear, even though his proclamation came from God. They were being ordered by God not to resist the Babylonians, but to submit to them.

Since God had given Jeremiah everything that he needed for his mission, cowardice or weakness on his part would not be tolerated. Thus began Jeremiah’s long, unhappy and ultimately unsuccessful mission. But he had delivered the message — the people chose to ignore it.

No one enters life aimlessly or without purpose. God has called each one of us into being and has a wish, hope and purpose for us. Our “mission” will not likely be as dramatic as Jeremiah’s — but then again, maybe it could. We all have things that we have to learn from our world, as well as gifts and talents that we are called to share. Making mistakes and false turns is inevitable but we must never refuse to engage life, even in the parts that are painful or unpleasant. It all has meaning; we are learning how to love.

Paul’s praise of love is often sentimentalized and trivialized. It can wind up on fridge magnets and coffee cups, but a close reading of the text discloses just how rigorous and demanding it is. Paul wrote this to his fractious and competitive community in Corinth, and it touches on all of the ways they have failed by being competitive, selfish, unkind and rude. They have paraded their spiritual powers before all, claiming an exalted status. But Paul insists that none of these powers mean a thing if they are done without love. And so there would be no misunderstanding, he made it clear what love is and is not. Love is humble, kind, patient, encouraging, forgiving, gentle and hopeful.

Not only were these qualities lacking in the Corinthian community, but they are also often rather scarce in our own. They would certainly do a lot to heal our societies and our world. Everything else will pass away, but when we leave this earth, we can take only the love we have given and received.

Jesus shocked the entire congregation in the synagogue. After reading from Isaiah 61, He declared that the prophecy spoke of Him. At first, they seemed impressed and open to what He had to say, but then the murmuring began: this is just Joseph’s son. Who does He think He is? But Jesus insisted that God is sovereign and free and is not the least bit constrained by our opinions and expectations. He called to mind two instances in Israel’s past when God showed grace and mercy to non-Israelites — one of them an enemy military leader, no less! God is far bigger and grander than we can ever imagine, and we do ourselves and God no favours by trying to put God in a box.

Jesus narrowly escaped with His life after the crowd turned on Him. Others have fared far worse when they challenged the common understanding or image of God, for questioning or challenging strikes terror in the hearts of many. But question and probe we must: it is by this that we are beginning to realize that God is not European or a white male, and in fact is far beyond any label we could ever imagine.

Our current struggle with racism, religious intolerance and every sort of injustice and inequality bids us to continue the process. God plays no favourites and simultaneously belongs to no one and everyone. As we remove the blinders from our minds and hearts, we will begin to see God as God really is.