“All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came out of his mouth.” So the people of Nazareth first responded to Jesus in his hometown synagogue. Then suddenly they turned on him. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” They even tried to throw him off the hill. Why this sudden change?
Perhaps when Jesus read the words of Scripture with such authority their vision soared beyond themselves and their everyday world. But when they looked upon Jesus simply as a home town boy putting on airs their vision narrowed. Many of us have had times when we have been so spiritually moved that we were lifted above the weariness of the moment and we feel close to God. There also are times when uncertainty, anxiety and doubt narrow our vision and lower our sights. We can choose into which direction we look. How we look at Jesus points the way.
These are difficult days we live in with acts of violence, strange viruses, addictions in many forms, racism, blustery cold weather and loneliness in a noisy world, to name only a few of the challenges. To deal in a healthy way with the highs and lows of our days, we need as St. Paul encourages us to live in faith, to live in hope, and especially to live in love, the three higher gifts. Each lifts us beyond ourselves and opens us to the presence of God in our midst.
“So faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love,” St. Paul writes. Why is love the greatest of these higher gifts? A Scripture scholar wrote, “Faith without love is cold, hope without love is grim. Love is the fire which kindles faith and it is the light which turns hope into certainty.” (Barclay) This love is not the smaltzy or physical love worshipped in the secular culture. It is a tough love that is realistic about sin and Satan but also a humble love that sees Jesus looking at us from the cross and telling us to be not afraid.
The words of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, our 2nd reading, have been called a hymn to love. They are often read at weddings. While it is a beautiful reminder of the lofty expectations of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, they are meant for us all, to call us all to a higher way whatever our vocation or status.
St. Therese of Lisieux was already a Carmelite nun when she felt the need for a deeper vocation, a call within a call. She sought guidance in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which we have been reading these last several weeks. She wrote that she did not see herself in any of the members of the Body of Christ St. Paul identified. After being enlightened by today’s Scripture that to live without love is like a gong or clashing cymbals, she discovered that charity, love was the answer to her yearning. She declared: “O Jesus. My love, my vocation, at last I have found it, my vocation is love.” To live the vocation of love whatever we do each day is a free gift for our taking and for our living.
The father of an autistic, special needs child wrote of his wife Jill and how she cared for their daughter Kim. He wrote: “When I was studying how Jesus looked at people, I watched how Jill looked at Kim. Kim is bright and cheerful, but struggles getting around physically and has trouble communicating because she cannot speak. She has few friends. The local public school where she attends has several floors with steep steps and difficult railings. Jill had memorized Kim’s schedule and prayed for her during the hard parts of the day. When Kim was navigating the steps, Jill was praying for her safety. When Kim was alone in the lunchroom eating, Jill was thinking about her. With her heart full of Kim, she quietly concentrated on her, prayed for her all day. She was “looking” at and looking out for Kim even when she wasn’t with her. When Jill looked, she slowed down and concentrated. She moved outside of her world and into Kim’s. When I think of how Jesus loved people, the word ‘cherish’ comes to mind. When we cherish someone, we combine looking and compassion – we notice and care for that person.” (Hauser) Jesus with love is looking at you in that way, cherishing you. When we return his gaze we are lifted above the everyday and like Jill can reflect his love.
David became orphaned at age seven and was taken in by his aunt and uncle who had no children. With great sacrifice they raised him, working hard on the farm growing and selling fruits and vegetables. The three of them were at the train station as he was leaving for college. David looked at his aunt who was wearing layers of sweaters rather than a good coat, her hands hard from working outdoors in all kinds of weather, face ruddy and as usual smiling. David looked at his uncle, his slight frame bent over from tilling and lifting, his skin wind-burned. He knew that they had sacrificed for him. He recalled that they never allowed him to call them mom and dad for fear he would forget his real parents. David took their rough hands into his smooth ones and said” “how can I ever repay you two for what you’ve done for me?” His uncle said quietly, “David, there’s a saying, the love of parents goes to the children, but the love of the children goes to their children.” “That’s not so,” said David. “I’ll always be trying to repay you…” His aunt interrupted him, “David, what your uncle means is that a parent’s love isn’t to be paid back. It can only be passed on.” (Bausch)
Our Father sent his Son who faced rejection, suffering and death on the cross out of such love for us. The prophet Jeremiah in the 1st reading had doubts about God’s love for he too was persecuted. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” the Lord reassured him. “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.” Those words of reassurance steadied Jeremiah and they can steady us.
May we with faith, hope and enduring love, this day and every day, especially on those uncertain days, be assured of the love of God who formed us in the womb, and pass it on.
May we do so assured that while in this passing world faith sustains, hope encourages and love lifts us, in the world to come we will no longer need the sustenance of faith or the encouragement of hope, for we will experience the ultimate love – Jesus Christ for eternity.