The Greatest of These Is Love

by Jen Owens

In this week’s readings, I hear a call to love. At the outset, Jeremiah tells us of a theophany he experienced, one that wraps him in a love that is bigger than words can express. God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” One of the gifts I find in the opening words of the reading is the idea that God loves us first, that God’s love is not anything that we can work for or earn. It’s freely given, shared with us by no doing of our own. This love is how God knows us; it becomes the marker of our identity.

And we respond to God’s love with love. Because the Second Reading is so often used at weddings, we often think of it in terms of romantic love. However, the letter was addressed to the whole Christian community at Corinth; it encourages us to treat one another with a kind of love that is active, even prophetic. This community is the one we enter into at Baptism, when we make a commitment to be radical, responsible, and regal, as a friend of mine likes to say, drawing on the imagery of prophet, priest, and king that the Catechism uses in its description of this Sacrament of Initiation. Bearing this in mind, remembering the Catholic community to which we belong, the words of the letter to the Corinthians sound a little different.

Finally, in the example of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, we learn that prophetic action is bound up in the same spirit of love that provokes it. Just in last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus proclaim to those in his hometown that the Spirit of God was upon him, sending him forth to share good news with the poor, liberty with captives, sight to the blind, liberation for the oppressed, and a year of jubilee for all. Love abounds in this passage–the love of a parent for her child, of a prophet who will become a savior for his people. And this week, we hear that that love disrupts the way things are done, to the point that the community threatens him with violence. Some see this passage as a foreshadowing of the events of the latter parts of Jesus‘ ministry, which ultimately lead to his death.

However, in today’s readings, I hear not an affirmation of violence, as some feminist theologians have characterized interpretations of the crucifixion, but rather, an affirmation of love. In these readings, I hear a call to love in the way that Jesus did because the words of the letter to the Corinthians are true: the greatest of these is love. Love is what brings us into being, what calls us each by name. Love is what leads us to prophetic action, to name the sins of the church and the world for what they are. Love is what will convert the church and the world from those sins. And love is what will aid the work of reconciliation and of healing, for which our church and our world are in such desperate need.

Jen Owens is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back and a first-year doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

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