Feb. 2, 2019

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019

WHEN EVERYTHING ENDS UP IN LOVE

Readings: 1st- Jer. 1:4-5, 17-19; 2nd- 1 Cor. 12:31-13:13; Gospel- Lk. 4:21-20

The second reading presents us with the famous hymn of love from Saint Paul. “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 in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13: 4-8). Everything, according to St. Paul, will end- prophecies, tongues, knowledge. They will all expire but in the end, love will remain. Then he concludes with the famous statement about the three theological virtues: “faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13:13). 

I once attended a wedding where at the end of that reading, the priest asked the groom and the bride to substitute the word love with their names while trying to teach them the importance of this great virtue. Maybe we can try that and see how our names fit or doesn’t fit into the qualities of LOVE as described in the reading. For instance, Vin is patient, Vin is kind. Vin is not jealous… Continue, let's see whether you’ll be able to complete the checkboxes. Of course, you’ll know if it corresponds or if it contradicts who you are. Score yourself at the end of that exercise.

The prophet Jeremiah received the great mandate and motivation to proclaim God’s word in the first reading. God reassures him of his love in his ministry. God reminds him that he knows him from his mother’s womb and did consecrate him for a purpose- To tell the people the mind of God for them. God’s command to Jeremiah is this, “Stand up and tell them all that I command you” (Jer. 1:17). That’s the prophetic mission, a tough one indeed. It is not to make people feel “nice” but to speak words of truth that will guarantee their salvation. God knew that the prophet Jeremiah would be rejected because of this message. He would be antagonized and attacked. God says to him, “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer. 1:19).

The experience of Jeremiah is similar to the experience of Christ in the gospel. Jesus begins by reminding his immediate community about his mission, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” His people are astonished and wonder where he’s got the wealth of his knowledge. They know him as the son of Joseph, from a very poor background. So, what makes him extraordinary? They hear about the miracles he’s done in other places such as Capernaum. Why does he not do them there to prove himself? Jesus reminds them that no prophet is accepted by his own people. He cites the experiences of the prophets of the Old Testament- Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Elisha was sent to Naaman in Syria. The people are upset with him for placing himself in the rank of prophets like Elijah and Elisha. If you can’t perform miracles for us, then why equate yourself with the big prophets? “Get out of here!” Elijah made the rains to fall and made food available for the widow of Zarephath. Elisha healed lepers. Jesus’ people are angry with him and want to throw him down from the top of the hill. Jesus escaped them.

If we ask Jesus’ audience to substitute the word love with their names, I’m not sure how far that exercise would fly. They want to hear good news but they are not patient, not kind. They are envious of Jesus. They are arrogant and proud. But that does not deter Jesus from his prophetic mission. 

In the beatitudes Jesus teaches, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). The prophet is one who has experienced God in such an intimate way that his divine Word possesses the person. The first Psalm states, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (Ps. 1:1-3). The prophetic life brings persecution and rejection but in the end love triumphs.

The people of Jeremiah’s time expect soft and kind words. The people of Paul’s community expect gifts and charisms. The people of Jesus’ community expect miracles. All these things do not make meaning if they do not communicate love. That is what the prophet brings, God’s message of salvation anchored on truth. The prophet therefore speaks love to God’s people. He does not rely on feelings. The prophet speaks freedom. The prophet speaks AGAPE the real, sacrificial, redeeming love. He/she is not selfish. Jesus is the fulfilment of prophecy. He sacrificed himself to save us from sin and shame. Jesus invites us to his prophetic ministry. 

Are you afraid to speak the AGAPE (to your children, spouse, relatives, colleagues, friends), the authentic language of freedom? Hear the words of God to prophet Jeremiah, “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.” In the New Testament we read, “And Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). Truth speaks the language of love (AGAPE) because in truth everything ends up in LOVE.