January 31, 2016 — Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Christ was asked consistently throughout Holy Scripture what one must do to get to Heaven, to achieve holiness and grace. His many answers could be summarized in one word — Love. Today’s readings for this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time reflect two themes — to live God-centered lives, and to love in a way that is perhaps somewhat foreign to our secular and romanticized concept of love.
Like many of the prophets, Jeremiah was a bit reluctant. He did not aspire to be a prophet, and he found the calling to be burdensome in many ways. Yet, God makes it clear to Jeremiah that He has called him to that role, and He fully expects him to fulfill that vocation. Each of us, of course, is also called to a particular role to serve God, the Church, and one another. As hesitant as we, too, may be, it is what God expects of us. This is why stewardship is important.
As unwilling as we may feel, our goal needs to be to fulfill God’s wishes. It is not always easy, and the Lord makes it clear to Jeremiah it will not be easy for him. God says to Jeremiah, “Do not be crushed on their account.” In other words, you will confront opposition, but be assured that I am with you always. That is what God says to us as well.
The Second Reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is one with which most of us are familiar. It is all about love. We tend to hear this at weddings and similar events, but Paul is addressing a deeper and more unconditional love. Paul knew that the Corinthians were enamored with spiritual gifts, just as many of us are. However, at the depths of every gift is one thing — love. Paul’s point, quite simply, is that all gifts are meaningless without love.
One of the subtleties of St. Paul’s letter is missed because of our lack of knowledge about the Greek in which it was written. The Greeks had four words for love: eros, which is the romantic love with which we are familiar; storge, another Greek word for love refers to family love, the love between a parent and a child, for example; philia, the third word for love means the love of friendship, brotherly and sisterly love so to speak; however, Paul throughout this passage uses the fourth word for love: agape. This is a self-giving love which is given without demanding or expecting reciprocation. It is pure love. It is sacrificial, giving, and unconditional. It has little to do with emotion, and everything to do with living out the love God feels for us. It is stewardship.
Agape love is self-denial for the sake of others. That is the love to which Jesus calls us. That is at the core of everything we are and everything we do. Paul closes this remarkable Gospel with the statement, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Like Jesus when He spoke of love, St. Paul is reminding us that love never ends; it will continue to grow, both now and in Heaven. Faith and hope will have fulfilled their purpose, but love is never ending and will continue to grow throughout eternity.
The two themes recounted in the first two readings are brought together in the Gospel from Luke. Jesus returns to His home to share the love He has found. Nevertheless, He confronts opposition and even derision. Jesus’ response is worth noting for us. The Lord does not respond with anger for anger, but with love for anger. Jesus merely departs, knowing that He will have another opportunity. In the face of resistance and hostility we are called to one reaction: love.