When Love Gets Ugly
User's Guide to Sunday, Jan. 31
Jan. 31 is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Coming up: Tuesday, Feb. 2, is the feast of the Presentation, and Wednesday, Feb. 3, is the memorial of St. Blaise, with the blessing of throats at many parishes.
Mass Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 or 13:4-13; Luke 4:21-30.
Today’s second reading is the great chapter-long description by St. Paul of what love is — and, just as importantly, what it is not. The Church pairs it with a Gospel that helps clarify what real love looks like in practice.
First Corinthians’ Chapter 13 may be a favorite wedding reading, but it is not very mushy or romantic if you read it self-reflectively.
In fact, it makes a good examination of conscience. How many of us love like that: with patience and unfailing kindness? Without any touch of jealousy or self-importance? How many of us have rooted out rudeness in our own lives? How many of us have succeeded in not holding grudges any longer?
Look at how the Nazarenes and Jesus did on St. Paul’s list in today’s Gospel. He announced in the synagogue that he was the Messiah, and the reaction he got went from adulation to skepticism to antagonism.
Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted likes to distinguish between “niceness” and “kindness.” Those who are “nice” soft-pedal differences and minimize the truth to avoid confrontation. Kindness speaks straightforwardly and honestly about the truth.
The townspeople at first are “nice” about Jesus’ announcement: “All spoke highly of him,” says the Gospel. But we quickly see that they doubted all along.
Jesus saw through them; his love didn’t give in to pompousness or self-importance at their flattery. Jesus’ love is kind — neither rude on the one hand nor “nice” in a superficial way on the other. He clarifies exactly what he is saying: His goal is to find faith in the world, and he is more likely to find it elsewhere.
As it dawns on them that Jesus is going to be a Savior to the world rather than a hometown hero, the people turn against him. They utterly fail Paul’s tests. They are self-important. They are jealous. They brood over injuries. Their impatience becomes rudeness, and they act out their grudge, driving Jesus to the edge of a cliff, intending to throw him off.
Jesus responds with patient, self-sacrificing and nonviolent love. He passes through their midst and walks away. The prophecy in our first reading from Jeremiah comes true in his life: “Stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account. … They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
The lesson for us is this: Christian love is not always warm and fuzzy, and Jesus’ Good News is sometimes challenging instead of comforting. We may find ourselves rejected when we live it and share it.
But our faith is always the truth, and it is only by conforming to the truth that we will find and spread real happiness.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.