John W. Martens
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), Feb. 3, 2013
And I will show you a still more excellent way (1 Cor 12:31)

Love never fails because God, who is love, never fails. Human loves can be disordered and disintegrate because they can be built upon our own misguided hopes and desires. We mistake what we want or how we perceive something for how things must be or truly are. When Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth, his initial proclamation was greeted warmly: “All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Yet when Jesus speaks of God’s healing love among the gentiles, drawing on examples from the prophets Elijah and Elisha, Luke presents a group of people suddenly enraged. How could things change so fast? Luke does not offer us many details, but it seems peoples’ expectations regarding God’s salvation were not met. Jesus had just spoken of his prophetic fulfillment in the synagogue, so why would he place God’s fulfillment of Israel’s hopes among the gentiles? In addition, something else is bubbling under the surface with respect to Jesus, as to whether he is truly “the one.” After all, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

The scene Luke sketches, though short and dramatic, encapsulates the human desire to manage and control events. We think we know how things ought to go, and we are often certain we know who people are. We are quick to order the world according to our own wishes and desires. Because of this, the proclamation of the word of God does not always fall on fertile soil. It is not what we wanted, hoped for or expected. It is too challenging, too generous or too different. The person God has chosen for a task is not someone who we feel has the proper qualifications.

The prophet Jeremiah had the same doubts about himself. Though the word of God came to Jeremiah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you,” he initially rejects his own worthiness for the call. God declares, though, that he will deliver Jeremiah. The Psalmist too understands that it is God who is his strength: “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.” Even before we are born we are known to God, called by God and depend upon God even when his plans are unclear to us.

As creations of God there is something else that binds all of us together, the essence of God himself, which is love. This is why Paul speaks of love as the greatest of spiritual gifts—it is the gift that, unlike prophecy or knowledge, is eternal. More than that, it is the gift that is available to all of us, regardless of our call or understanding. From the aged to the athlete, from those disabled to those just born, love is our heritage. We are worthy of love by the very fact of our creation and being. Ceslas Spicq says that this love, agape in the New Testament, is a “demonstration of love,” “a divine love, coming from heaven” and a love that “links persons of different conditions: with rulers, benefactors and fathers; it is a disinterested and generous love, full of thoughtfulness and concern. It is in this sense that God is agape and loves the world” (Theological Lexicon of the New Testament).

It is this outpouring of agape that points to the inherent and true value of all human life: We are made to receive God’s love and to share God’s love. Our blind spots, personal or societal, can blind us to the true meaning and purpose of life. The anger at the Nazareth synagogue emerged from mistaken notions of how God should or must act and led to the rejection of Jesus’ proclamation that God’s love incarnate in him was for all peoples. God’s love is not dependent upon our human calculation of gifts and capabilities. The rejection of the little ones in our society—whether the unborn, the aged, the disabled or the poor— emerges from our assessment of people as products we can evaluate. But the performance that God desires from us, to which he has called every one of us, is simply this: that we love one another. And this love never fails.

John W. Martens

Readings: 
Readings: Jer 1:4-19; Ps 71:1-17; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30
Prayer: 

• Am I open to God doing something new?

• Do I recognize love as the greatest spiritual gift?

• Can I accept the working of God’s gifts in others?