I suppose I have to stop calling these “lectionary” reflections, since I’m not consistently following the lectionary right now. I still depend on the lectionary for the broad sweep of how all these scriptures might fit together in worship, but with everything reordered, well… just try and keep up. This week we’re reading 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (the RCL passage for the day) and Luke 6:20-31 (in the RCL on the 6th and 7th Sundays of Ordinary Time).

Where are we?

Hint: Not at a wedding. Count me among those who think it’s too bad that 1 Corinthians 13 sounds so nice as a sentimental ode to conjugal bliss. Not that it’s not true in that context, but that Paul hasn’t been talking about how nice it is that two sweet young people found each other. He’s been talking about spiritual gifts, namely the question of which gifts are more important. He offered a list of gifts in order of preeminence, but then he offers this “best way.” (And lest we think he’s just changing the subject, he continues with spiritual gifts for another full chapter after this.)

In Luke, we’ve skipped ahead by a chapter or two, past Jesus calling some disciples and healing a few folks. And picking a fight with the Pharisees about Sabbath observance. Now he begins the set of teachings that Matthew’s gospel records as “the Sermon on the Mount,” only in Luke he’s on “a level place.”

What’s going on?

‘Love’ in 1 Corinthians is the Greek word agape, which the King James translated well as ‘charity.’ It’s distinct from (but not necessarily opposed to) the love of family loyalty or romantic love. While vv. 1-3 may sound like love is an emotional state, vv. 4-7 point to love as a much more active thing. Then, in vv. 8-12, love becomes a mystical way of experiencing God even when it’s impossible for humans to truly know God.

Our translation uses ‘happy’ for the beatitudes, which is a better translation than ‘blessed,’ because what does that word even mean in real life? ‘How terrible’ is better than ‘woe,’ which is just a transliteration for the Greek. And ‘love’ for enemies is the same ‘love’ Paul uses, just in case you’re keeping score.

Unlike in Matthew’s account of this teaching, Jesus speaks in the second person. He’s not just talking about the poor, hungry, and weeping; he’s talking to them. He’s calling out distinctions in his congregation in real time. Perhaps, by calling his hearers’ attention to the others around them – even with the language of condemnation – Jesus is offering the blessing of awareness.

The “Golden Rule” Jesus arrives at in v. 31 isn’t unique; forms of it are well attested among the rabbis who wrote around this time. At the same time, to “love your enemies” and refuse to participate in an “eye for an eye” system of retaliation steps outside any way humans have found to order society.

So what?

Paul is talking about the church as the site for all this love. We tend to read it as a wedding text. Perhaps the Reformers would have approved of this conflation. One of the problems for Protestant churches during the Reformation was what to do with the monastic system that had defined so much of the medieval church. One approach was to lift up the lives of prayer, service, and devotion that were lived at monasteries, but to point to the home as the proper place for all that Christian commitment. Thus the home was to become a “little monastery” or a “little church,” where the life of faith could be lived fully by all Christians.

Both Corinthians and Luke present these ideal pictures of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They seem intentionally to set the bar so high that none of us could ever clear it without some really remarkable boost of grace. And yet, they speak in almost mundane terms about how to relate to one another. Just how practical is this?

Here’s the question: where do you see these pictures of love and faithfulness taking shape (or being able to take shape) in what we call “real life”? What’s practical, or practicable, and what seems like an ideal for us to refer to and then move on?

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