The Gospel of Luke today begins with the same words of Jesus that ended last week’s Gospel reading: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The story picks up with their amazement at His Words, and yet as we know, “familiarity breeds contempt” for Jesus’ neighbors: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” No one likes to hear the truth if it doesn’t match with their own vision of how things are. No matter how inspired His words and actions are they don’t want to change; people don’t want to change and admit that change is needed and necessary. They look for reasons and justifications not to change and not to listen: Jesus is just the son of the local carpenter.
The Second Reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians is about the way to live that Christ brings to us all. It is a plan, a diagram—a recipe—a recipe for living a life in Christ. Every action and all our speech must be expressed as love, since “love never fails.” This familiar reading (often read at weddings) is a blueprint for how to be like Jesus. “Love is patient, love is kind…” If we were all to follow these directions of St. Paul what a different world it would be: no polarization, no division, no greed and selfishness, no marginalization and tribalism and racism—a life lived in which you would treat others as you would expect to be treated—a life of love (respect) in action. Love is not about being first, proving others wrong, and demanding primacy—or else! It is not about violence initiated or retaliation or revenge for violence suffered. It is, at least in Christian teaching, about patience, kindness, and restraint. While love rejoices in truth and celebrates what is holy, it does not impose its view of truth by force or coerce what it regards as holy on others.
Love demands relationship. You can memorize a stack of facts and know a whole lot about someone; develop a fairly accurate profile describing and explaining their personality and predict their future behavior—and yet still not develop a real and loving relationship with that person. Making the choice to love someone forces you to see beyond your private world, beyond your words, beyond yourself altogether. Love feeds on a shared history of affection, secrets, surprises, mysteries, generosity, moments, and spontaneity. In a manner of speaking, you make history together. It is hard to envision a world where everyone would choose love in action, but one can hope (and pray).
The people of the synagogue today chose to rise up in rage at Jesus, and they drive Him from the town and lead Him to the brow of the hill in order to kill Him. Before long, we know that the Sanhedrin will also rise up and lead Jesus to Pilate, and then to the top of the hill named Calvary. We see deadly choices both times—people who do not choose for love—but who choose for evil, for their personal glory, for their own selfish perspective.
Jesus Himself ultimately makes a choice, too: He chooses death, He accepts His fate and the path for our salvation on a cross in order to save us from ourselves! By His sacrifice He chooses love to drive away hatred and evil, selfishness and sin. He chooses to be raised up so that we will also be raised on the last day—and in love asks the Father to forgive us.
We need to see each other as one of God's wonderful creatures in whom He has invested himself, for whom He has extended himself over time, and for whom He died. We do not have to dress like each other, speak the same language, or share our beliefs. Not only will we not hate others for their differences, but we would want to know and understand each other. Respect for others is neither apostasy (an abandonment of our religious beliefs) nor compromise. It is love. It is respect.
In our lives we have a choice in how we live and act. (Actually, we are our choices.) Do we choose to live the “recipe” of love? Or do we take Jesus to the brow of the hill yet again? My advice would be the same as St. Paul’s: Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts! Remember that love never fails.
Just a Note: God loves us, no matter what…even when we fail to live the “recipe” of love. But we still need to keep trying, anyway.