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4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 3, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


Today’s 2nd reading from the 13th chapter of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians is one of the most well-known passages in Scriptures. It is the most popular Scripture reading for weddings because of its emphasis on love.

But the love Paul sings about is not romantic love, which in Greek is “eros.” Rather, Paul uses another word for love in this famous passage — “agape.” Agape is understood as charity or compassion, that is, love which spreads outwards and does not grab or keep for itself. It is the most excellent gift—not possessive, envious, angry, or begrudging. Love that is agape always seeks the good of the other, and the good of others— the common good.

Paul proclaims the power of “agape” because the Corinthians are looking out for their own individual good and are therefore divided. They are seeking the gifts of God in order to be “better” than others, or to lord their gift over others. Thus, there are many divisions in this early Christian community, because they are not loving in an “Agape” way.

Paul teaches them that any gift given by God is not for oneself, but is meant to be used in service of others. Paul has to remind them that no matter what great gifts they receive— knowledge or prophecy, speaking in tongues or a faith that can move mountains, if these gifts are not used in loving service of others, then they are worth nothing at all.

So, this powerful passage, this beautiful hymn to love, is in the end very appropriate for a couple entering into marriage, and for how we are to relate to anyone. For to “agape” another means looking out for the good of the other, building the other person up instead of being puffed up by our own pride, being patient and kind with the other and not seeking one’s own interests. Agape gives us the strength to hold our tongue and reign in our temper.

This kind of love can endure all things, because it is a “godly” kind of love. It is a life-giving love because one freely gives one’s life for the others.

Jesus, son of Joseph and son of God, embodies this kind of love. When we want to see what “agape” looks like, we look to Jesus. God is love — God is “agape” — and Jesus is the love of God enfleshed.

Jesus is always focused outward on the needs of others, what’s best for the other. The gifts he has received he shares with others and in service of others. The life he has been given he gives away daily for others, so that the offering of his life fully on the cross is a natural result of how he lives and loves every day.

Jesus’ “inaugural address”, which we heard last Sunday in Luke’s Gospel, reveals how Jesus understands his mission — what he is to do with his life. He is to “agape,” especially those in greatest need of love— the poor and those who are oppressed by injustice, to open the eyes of those who are blind to the needs of others, to proclaim a year of favor for God’s favorites — those in greatest need of compassion and care.

Jesus challenges the people of his hometown of Nazareth to love in an agape way. But they reject him and his message, even to the point of trying to kill Jesus. Jesus challenges them to look beyond their own interests and learn that they are God’s chosen people precisely so they can reach out to others, especially outsiders, with the love of God.

But the people of Nazareth are held captive by a me-first, Israel-first mentality. They have heard of the mighty deeds Jesus has performed in Capernaum, and they want him to do something for them. They want to profit from his extraordinary gifts.

They especially do not want to hear from the hometown boy of how God’s love extends to foreigners, those beyond their borders, even if these foreigners be in great need— a widow who is starving in Sidon and a Syrian with the terrible disease of leprosy.

The inherent danger of being self-focused, of being concerned only with one’s own interests, is this kind of deadly attitude fuels violence— they try to kill Jesus. But he passes through their midst and goes away.

We do not want to make the same mistake. We do not want Jesus to pass through our midst and go away, because life without him is no life at all. After all, we were chosen by God in baptism and joined to his son in those life-giving waters, so that we might give our lives away in love with Jesus.

As Pope Francis points out, Jesus lives in our hearts, and he is constantly knocking at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to open our hearts and let him out into the world.

With Jesus, with his help, we can love in an agape way. Without him, we are the most pitiable of creatures.

Jesus’ love for us transforms our selfish instincts into loving in an agape way. So that with Jesus, we discover there are no borders to God’s love.