St. Paul’s discourse on love is very familiar but he seems to spend more words telling us what love “is not” rather than what love “is”. His list of negativity is by no means complete. We can all think of many other actions that would describe the absence of love. In fact, the list is inexhaustible because our fallen nature has no problem conjuring up ways to hurt others.
On the flip side, Paul begins by using only two words for his description of love: patient and kind. These two words pretty much encompass the totality of what love is. When he says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, he is building on those two simple but all encompassing words. To bear, believe, hope, and endure involves patience, for sure, but kindness is also necessary if it is truly to be considered love rather than just foot-tapping or finger-rapping perseverance. The two are really inseparable as we shall see in today’s Gospel.
It picks up right where last week’s Gospel left off. “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The people of Nazareth refer to His words as gracious, but were they? The prophesy of Isaiah that Jesus has just read uses two important verb phrases: He has anointed me; He has sent me. In short, Jesus’ commission comes from God! Rather than His words being gracious, there is a stark reality to them. He declares Himself a prophet but the people cannot accept it: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” Jesus does not condemn them for their thinking. No, He points out, with patience and kindness, using two well-known examples, that a prophet is not sent for his own people but for others. They knew that. Most of the prophets of old did not work among their own people but were sent to others, like Jonah, who was sent from Israel to the town of Nineveh, a foreign people.
We, like the people of Nazareth, often get it wrong in sizing up others and others often get it wrong about us. Would that we could have the patience and kindness of Jesus!