1/27/10

The real meaning of LOVE in 1 Corinthians 13


Image: Gwen Meharg

Here are some very familiar verses from the second reading (1 Corinthians 13) for this coming Sunday's liturgy for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

This text is often chosen to be read at weddings. When I preach on it I remind my listeners that St. Paul didn't have a bride and groom in mind when he wrote these words but that he was addressing the whole church at Corinth. Nonetheless, these words are appropriate for a wedding celebration because in marriage a husband and wife are called to become an icon, a mirror of Christ's relationship with the Church, his body. The married couple should live their sacrament as an "outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace." In that sense, then, the couple is called to be the love of which Paul writes -- such that we might paraphrase his message to the Corinthians in this way:

John and Mary are patient,

John and Mary are kind.

Mary and John are not jealous and they are not pompous.

They are neither inflated nor rude.

John and Mary do not seek their own interests.

They are not quick-tempered, nor do they brood over injury.

Mary and John do not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rather,
they rejoice with the truth.

John and Mary bear all things,
believe all things,

hope all things,
endure all things.


John and Mary never fail.

(Of course, you may fill in your and your spouse's!)

In the same way, as followers of Christ, each of us is called to mirror the life and the love of Christ in how we live each day. In that wise, then, we might paraphrase Paul's words by inserting our own name in the text:

_______ is patient,

_______ is kind.

_______ is neither jealous nor pompous,

_______ is not inflated, is not rude,

_______ does not seek his/her own interests,

_______ is not quick-tempered, does not brood over injury,

_______ does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

_______ bears all things,
believes all things,

hopes all things,
endures all things.


_______ never fails.

And there's one more application of this theme. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, so does he write to each local church. So we might insert the name of our own parish or diocese in the text from 1st Corinthians:

The people of__________________ are patient and they are kind.

They are not jealous, they are not pompous.

They are not inflated, nor are they rude.

The people of __________________ do not seek their own interests.

They are not quick-tempered, nor do they brood over injury.

They do not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rather, they rejoice with the truth.

The people of __________________
bear all things, believe all things,
hope all things, endure all things.

The people of __________________ never fail.

Too often, Paul's words here are read and understood as romantic, greeting-card verse when, in fact, they address some of the most nitty-gritty circumstances of our lives. The love Paul describes here is beautiful but it is not easy. This is a love that makes demands on us from the inside out, a love that asks each of us and all of us as the church to always put the neighbor or the spouse before the self.

Such is the love that indeed, never fails...

4 comments:

grace said...

I listened to this reading at a wedding one time and compared it to the relationship I was in. I realized it was everything opposite from what St. Paul wrote. Although I am alone today, I am not without the teachings of St. Paul. Thank you for pointing out this reading does not have to be looked at in the romantic sense.

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken when Tiny Tim got married (on the Johnny Carson Show?,) this reading was part of the ceremony. I believe he added his own "not puffed up" to the reading, which, at the time, struck me as quite funny.

Rosemary

Anonymous said...

Sorry Father, but you have got it wrong. Paul is speaking about communal love not individual love between spouses. For that you have to look at 1 Cor 7. There is a reason why this chapter is placed after chapter 12. The main problem at Corinth is factionalism; the only thing that over come that is to see oneself as part of an organic unity like the body. You could have found this out easily with little study. Your pious response misses the mark.

ConcordPastor said...

"Anonymous," I'm not sure you read my whole post. I acknowledged that this passage is not about individual love between spouses but the Church does offer this text for the celebration of the sacrament of marriage so I tried to offer a way to understand Paul's words here in the context that many people hear them. In addition, I offered a way of understanding the text in terms of a parish or diocese, both forms of organic unity like a body.

If you're suggesting that these words can be understood only as you suggest, I think you're limiting the potential of this scripture for having several applications.