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Sunday Scripture: Lessons on love

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By Father Timothy Schehr

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 1:4-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30

The second reading for this Sunday will be very familiar to us. Paul’s teaching on love (“charity” in older translations) has the distinction of being one of the most popular readings for a wedding. And why not?  It’s perfectly understandable that couples would want to start their journey together with Paul’s assuring words that “love never fails.”

This lesson on love is testimony to Paul’s devotion to the church community in Corinth. The apostle knew that community really had to make some changes if they were ever going to become a model of excellence for others.

It seems the Corinthian church was always on the point of breaking up; members just could not get along, even at the Eucharist. Paul had to write at least five letters to them, and he visited them at least three times personally. Little wonder Paul has to write to this community about the more excellent way of love.

Paul’s lesson on love came a little late for the people of Nazareth appearing in the Gospel for this Sunday. They would definitely have benefitted from what he had to say. At first the congregation in the Lord’s hometown responds favorably to the announcement that Isaiah’s oracle is fulfilled in their hearing. But then second thoughts enter their heads. They say they know Jesus and His family…at least they think they do.

Jesus knows their hearts are not open to His message. They want Him to prove himself. Some miracle like the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum would do. But Jesus does not work miracles simply on demand. Miracles are an invitation to deeper faith. These folks at Nazareth are not yet on the path of faith.

To give them a nudge in the right direction Jesus draws a few lessons from their own history. They would have known about the great prophets Elijah and Elisha. Both prophets lived in Israel but it was generally not Israelites but outsiders who benefitted from the life-sustaining powers of these prophets.

As His first example Jesus reminds them of the widow of Zarephath in the days of Elijah. She and her son enjoyed God’s bounty when so many people of Israel were suffering from a famine. At first she hesitated to trust in the word of God spoken by Elijah. But once she set aside her fears she discovered all the advantages that flow from faith.

As the second example Jesus reminds them of Naaman the Syrian. When Naaman first heard the words spoken by the prophet Elisha his pride got in the way. But once he set aside his pride and humbly obeyed the prophet’s command to wash seven times in the Jordan River, he was healed of his leprosy.

The lesson is clear enough. Like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman of Syria, the folks of Nazareth could choose to set aside their pride and lack of trust. Then they would be disposed to receive all the wonderful gifts mentioned in the oracle of Isaiah read by the Lord. But unfortunately they were not yet ready to take that step.

The people of Jeremiah’s day would also have benefitted from Paul’s message to the Corinthians.  Jeremiah was all too familiar with the resistance people gave to the word of God. In the first reading, God prepares him for the struggle but also promises him that he will prevail.

Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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