“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
This passage about love has become almost as worn out as the word “love” itself. We’ve heard it over and over again at weddings… which is fine. It is a beautiful passage and certainly beats the woman-came-from-man-and-must-therefore-obey-him passage. Not to mention the fact that almost no one knows that it had nothing to do with a marriage relationship in the first place. And, I wonder if, like the Lord’s Prayer, it gets used so often that we don’t really hear it anymore.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
So, let’s put this “wedding” passage in the context of the situation in Corinth as well as how it fits with 1 Corinthians 12 and our discussions over the last two weeks (you may want to take a peek at those blogs if you’ve forgotten).
First, do you remember what the situation was like in Corinth? There was a lot of tension and stress due to different opinions on whose preaching and teaching to follow, what was the “best” spiritual gift to have, what could women really do in the church community, could they use meat dedicated to pagan gods, and more. Frankly, it sounds like it was fairly chaotic and there was a lot of in-fighting going on.
Second, do you remember what Paul was trying to get across to the people of Corinth regarding spiritual gifts? Everyone has spiritual gifts and the Spirit bestows gifts as she chooses. We are all part of the metaphorical body of Christ. Not one part of the body, nor one gift, nor one person is better than another. All have equal value and worth. And finally, Paul urged people not to fall into the traps of feeling less than others, or believing that some people are innately better than others.
OK… so, if the folks actually got that far, Paul now gets even more intense. He just told them that there is no gift better than another, then says, “But now I will show you the way which surpasses all the others.” And that way is LOVE.
If Paul were talking to people today, he’d essentially be saying, “Look, all these gifts are great… you can play music and sing rock ‘n roll, and give legal advice, and fix cars, and paint pretty pictures. You can treat people’s illness, or an animal’s illness, or build a house, or balance numbers… you can preach or teach, prophecy or speak in tongues… but if you don’t have love you have nothing.”
Why? Because love is the ultimate connection to the Divine. To love unconditionally (as the Greek word agape connotes here) is a remembering of who you are at the core of your being.
What is this love thing? Paul draws us into agape love and describes it as much by what it is not as by what it is:
- It is not arrogant, jealous, snobbish, rude, self-seeking, angry or irritable
- It is patient, kind, truthful. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things.
Paul even suggests that as he has grown and matured in his faith, he has learned and chosen to put away childish ways (read: all of those things love is not) .
Here is the kicker for today… LOVE is a choice.
Fr. John Powell, in his book Seasons of the Heart tells the story of visiting a prisoner at the Illinois State Penitentiary. While he was being admitted with the other visitors he found himself walking next to an elderly black lady who was exuding love and greeting everyone around her. Anyway, this dear lady was doing her best to make the dismal atmosphere of the prison seem cheerful. Fr. John finally said to her, “I think that you must spread a great amount of cheer in this world. You really like people, don’t you?” She replied, “Oh, thank you. You know, there are no strangers in my world. There are just brothers and sisters, some of whom I haven’t yet met.” He kept watching her. She really meant that. In her deepest self she really meant that. No wonder she was happy and loving.
It is a choice to live in a loving space…or not. We forget that, and oftentimes allow ourselves to be controlled by our anger, fear, hurt, guilt or shame. We make assumptions and judgments, which is also a decision. But we also have the ability to make self-loving decisions, and decisions for the greatest good and happiness of another.
Fr. Powell shared another story about a time when he was in seminary and went to the infirmary for some medicine for a head cold. While he was waiting, he watched a Brother tucking in two old, bedridden priests for the night. As he tucked the blanket of the first man under his chin, the old fellow snarled, “Oh, get your face out of mine. What do you think this is?” But when the Brother went into the next room, and did the very same thing for the second old priest, the old man said, “Oh brother, you are so good to us. Before I fall asleep tonight, I’m going to say a very special prayer just for you.” As a young seminarian, Fr. Powell stood there suddenly realizing that one day he would be one of those two old men. Which one? In addition, he said it also seemed clear that we didn’t make those decisions in old age. We are making those decisions right now. Over the course of time, the way we perceive the world, and the way we act in the world become habit.
What will we choose?
Love & Light!