“The message has become commonplace rather than radical.”
We hear a familiar message in the readings this weekend. It is a message so familiar, it might be a struggle for priests to find something new to say about it. A message so familiar, it might be easy to turn our minds off and take it for granted.
“One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
Recently I went to a wedding that used 1 Corinthians 13 as the second reading. I wasn’t surprised – not only is it a common second reading at weddings, I had suggested it! But as I sat there and listened to the words, I wondered how often we manage to ignore them because they’re so familiar. The words are embroidered on throw pillows and painted on distressed wood signs that hang in our hallways. The message has become commonplace rather than radical.
“[I]f I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing….”
Notice that Paul is not just saying love is more important than worldly things, like success or money or possessions. He is not simply comparing love to a material view of accomplishments and talents. Looking at the passage, Paul is listing the spiritual gifts. He is reminding us that even if we speak with angelic tongues, even if we know God, even if we have faith, yes, even if we are martyred for that faith… if we have not loved, it is useless. It is not that the spiritual gifts are not powerful or are not to be desired. But the way of love, Paul says, is more excellent (1 Cor 12:31).
And it’s not just about loving God. It’s about loving our neighbor, which Jesus radically reveals in the Gospel is everyone. The young man in the Gospel this weekend notes, “to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices,” and Jesus does not correct him. Because you can sacrifice even your very life… and if you have lived without loving your neighbor, it is nothing.
Pull your Bible off the shelf and re-read 1 Corinthians 13. Yes, it will be familiar; perhaps it was read at your own wedding. Maybe you have the words hanging in your house. But read it again. Read it slowly, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you anew. What does He want to say to you today with it? Sit with the text. Ask the Lord to challenge you with it.
Image: “Parable of the Good Samaritan” (detail) by Jan Wijnants [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons