For Feb. 3, 2013: 4 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 1:4-10

Last week we heard from Nehemiah about the Law being read aloud in Jerusalem once the walls were rebuilt, and the people weeping to hear it. The book of Jeremiah takes us back two centuries: Jerusalem is about to be overrun and its walls and the Temple destroyed. The Lord calls Jeremiah to prophesy this. And what is Jeremiah’s immediate response? It is much like ours, much too often: “Not me!”

The Response            Psalm 71:1-6

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 13:1-13

For two Sundays, Paul has explained to the church at Corinth—a community squabbling like kindergartners about whose gifts outshine whose—that each and every one of us is God’s gifted child. In today’s justly famous reading, Paul reminds us of the greatest gift of all, the gift that requires only a willing and open heart.

The Gospel            Luke 4:21-30

 

Further thoughts

If the Christian year were a lifetime, the Epiphany season might be its adolescence. The hushed, rapt adoration of Christmas—sleeping babies, to paraphrase Dostoevsky, are all adorable in pretty much the same ways, and the Christ child is no exception—gives way to the realities of becoming (but not yet being) mature. The boundless optimism of the fresh start gives way to wariness and sometimes weariness in the gap between what I can dream and what I can actually do, on the one hand, and between my own aspirations and others’ intentions for me on the other. En route, conflict is inevitable, as any parent or any adolescent well knows.

Today’s readings land us squarely in that space, with Jeremiah talking back to God and Jesus getting blunt with the home crowd. In this context, the reading from 1 Corinthians—the familiar paean to love and the gifts that love brings with it that is read at weddings precisely because it is the ideal to which a marriage aspires—appears to be a digression. But one of the tasks of love that Paul cites is truth. Love that fears to speak a truth in love is not love, nor is it love that refuses to listen to a truth spoken in love. Hearing an unflattering truth can be painful, and such a truth from one’s own offspring can sound to a parent like arrant disrespect, but God the Father models for us that the next step when the truth doesn’t sink in as desired is not escalating to a fight.

Love that both speaks truth and speaks it in love and that listens in love, whatever the differences between us in age, race, orientation, experience, or viewpoint between us, is surely the most compelling witness of all—perhaps because it isn’t trying to be a witness but is simply being itself, honoring the other’s self as a beloved fellow child of God.

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