Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Speaking the Truth in Love

Today’s Readings

Today’s opening prayer gave us a kind of theme for today’s Liturgy of the Word. That theme is love. Listen to the words of that prayer again: “Lord our God, help us to love you with all our hearts, and to love all people as you love them…” That could well be a morning prayer for all of us, every single day. But it’s the implications of that kind of love that unfold in today’s readings. Love is not just some warm, fuzzy feeling that we have for those closest to us. Love is instead a way of life, modeled on God who is love itself. This love is a love that is sacrificial in nature, a love that expresses itself in prophecy, a love that will never pass away. We hear that in the preface to our Eucharistic prayer today which says that “So great was your love that you gave us your Son as our redeemer.”

Today’s second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is very familiar to many of us. If you’ve been to a wedding where that was not one of the readings, you were at a very rare wedding indeed! It’s easy to see why so many couples would choose that reading: the romantic nature of the love they have for one another wants a reading as sweet and beautiful as this to be proclaimed at their wedding. But I always tell them that they should be careful of what they’re asking for. Because the love that St. Paul speaks of is not something that you feel, it’s more something that you do. Or, even better, something that you are.

Because, in any relationship, love is a choice. If it were just a feeling that you automatically had for someone close to you, it would be so much easier. If love happened automatically like that, there would be no abusive relationships. Young people would never turn away from their families. Parents would never neglect their children. Spouses would never separate. We wouldn’t need the sixth commandment, because no one would ever thing to commit adultery. Priests would never leave the priesthood because their love for their congregations and the Church would stop them from any other thoughts. But love isn’t that way, is it?

And that’s why St. Paul has to tell the Corinthians – and us too! – that love is patient, kind, not jealous, and all the rest. In fact, that passage from St. Paul defines love in fifteen different ways. Because love absolutely has to address pomposity, inflated egos, rudeness, self-indulgence, and much more. All of us, no matter what our state of life, must make a choice to love every single day. If you are married, you have to choose to love your spouse; if you are a parent, you have to choose to love your children. Children must choose to love their parents; priests have to choose to love their congregations, and the list goes on. Love is the most beautiful thing in the world, but love is also hard work.

As today’s Liturgy of the Word unfolds, we can see that love – true love – makes demands on us, demands that may in fact make us unpopular. In the first reading, Jeremiah is told that he was known and loved by God even before he was formed in his mother’s womb. That love demanded of him that he roll up his sleeves and be a prophet to the nations. God tells him that his prophecy won’t be accepted by everybody, that the people would fight against him. But even so, Jeremiah was to stand up to them and say everything that God commanded him, knowing that God would never let him be crushed, nor would God let the people prevail over Jeremiah.

For Jesus, it was those closest to him who rejected him. In the Gospel today, while the people in the synagogue were initially amazed at his gracious words, soon enough they were asking “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” as if to say, “Who is he to be talking to us this way?” When Jesus tells them that his ministry will make God’s love known to the Gentiles – those whom God had supposedly not chosen – it is then that they rise up and drive him out of the city, presumably to stone him to death.

Prophets are unpopular. It is the prophets’ love for God and for the people they are called to serve that stirs them into action. St. Paul tells us that love “does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.” Speaking that truth to others can be incredibly difficult. It was for Jeremiah, who proclaimed God’s word to people who had no intention of hearing it. It was difficult also for Jesus, who proclaimed God’s word to people who were close to him and thought he shouldn’t be correcting them. Jesus eventually had to give his life to witness to the truth, and to proclaim the unending power of God’s love.

We are called by our baptism to be prophetic people. We may be called to speak out to our elected officials in order for them to take notice of the needs of their constituents. We may be called to speak out in our workplaces in order for businesses to be successful and responsive to their communities. We may need to speak out in our churches so that the baptized will respond to God’s grace and live the Gospel. We may be called to speak out in our families to keep our loved ones on the right path.

What is tragically frustrating for all of us prophetic people, though, is that like Jeremiah and Jesus, our words may go unheeded, or even be unwelcome. But like Jeremiah, we must be encourages to persevere in our ministry, knowing that we must speak the truth as God has given it to us. We know that many who hear our words will fight against us but not prevail over us, for God is always with us to deliver us. Our baptism demands that we always speak the truth in love, regardless of whether those words are welcome or unwelcome. When our prophetic voices are grounded in love we know that we are speaking the truth, because, as St. Paul tells us, “faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

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