Reflection on the Epistle 1 Corinthians 13:  Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, January 30, 2022

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

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. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Let us Pray: Perfect Light of revelation, as you shone in the life of Jesus, whose epiphany we celebrate, so shine in us and through us, that we may become beacons of truth and compassion, enlightening all creation with deeds of justice and mercy. Amen.

This lesson is practically an anthem of Christian weddings in the western world. It is offered when all is truly well and fellowship is working its greatest work: two lives, two families are uniting. It is recited as wedding vows or offered as a poetic moment. This is curious considering that Paul writes 1 Corinthians in response to the opposite situation. Paul declares love as the greatest power in a community that seems to be lacking a lot of it. This moment is a far cry from an adoring couple standing at the altar declaring unwavering devotion to each other. He presents this passage as a way to introduce into the community a principle that is necessary if they are to survive the turmoil of difference and disagreement produced in interpersonal relationships.

 So let’s look at this lesson from today’s perspective. In today’s society, every day we hear people talking in tongues, saying things no one understands and are noisy gongs. Where so much is presented in terms of “self: self-awareness, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-image, self-realization, a lack of concern for each other. If we followed the example of Jesus Love, the envy, boasting, rudeness, arrogance, and anger of normal life would be turned upside down. Instead, patience and love and a rejoicing in truth would be the mark of God’s people. Where one would present a way of existence in which a person lives for the other in a life of loving.  Following the one who gave his life as a sacrifice for us could be humbling and undoubtedly costly in terms of a life as today’s society defines it. Luke reminds us: After giving your life to Christ, you need to go further in your walk with God by becoming a disciple. Christ must remain the example. One of the modern myths so prevalent in our society is that love will tolerate all things, promote all things, and deny nothing. In Scripture love is beautiful and well defined for us in that God is love, and Jesus demonstrated this perfectly to us all. Much of the whole of biblical theology is based on God and his love for his people and the response of love from his people. No wonder Paul later speaks of love as the “greatest” when speaking of those other Christian markers. For Paul, love for God is inevitably the sure sign that the person is “known by God”. We shall know God, not in the sense of having the same knowledge as God has. Make no mistake the love Paul is talking about here is not passive and fluffy. This kind of love builds communities, it nurtures positive social interactions. Paul’s declaration of love unifies. Love is the way by which we talk to each other, eat with one another, fellowship together, and recognize all.  Love transcends our self-imposed social systems and personal biases. It forms whole and holistic people, who are anchored in the well-being of others. Love will not let us down if we genuinely live in it together. Perhaps what Paul is saying is that heroic actions without love are meaningless. That love is not about heroic acts, grand demonstrations, big gifts. Instead, love is about practicing common courtesies and kindnesses with everyone. Love is about action, how a person lives for the Lord and obeys him and how a person lives for others and serves them. Paul wants us to realize that Love is the greatest gift that God has given us. True love never gives up: it never ends.

Let us Pray: Loving Lord, you have showered your world with faith, hope, and love. Help us to be faithful to you, to offer hope to those in need, and to love all your children. This we pray in your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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