More on I Corinthians 13


Writing to a correspondent this morning, I realized how little I've actually been able to share of some of my reflections. The question came up that if Jesus exemplified love, what are we to make of the incidents of the money-changers in the temple and Jesus calling the Pharisees "white-washed sepulchres." Was this patient? Kind?

I think those are excellent questions and they have sparked this short rejoinder to continue some thinking and praying through 1 Corinthians 13.

My first point is that the language of the passage is neither hyperbole nor can it be taken in a literal sense without contextualization. What does it mean to be patient? To be kind? What does it mean to "endure all things?" Does that mean that one stands by while the holocaust occurs because you love all people?

As to the last, I have not yet progressed so far in my reflections. However, to the former, I might have some suggestions as to how the words can be interpreted in a context. Certainly patience refers to endurance and being faithful through trial. Perhaps when we read "Love is patient," we can substitute as a near, but incomplete equivalent, "Love never loses hope." That is, the patient subsists in abiding with a person one loves with the expectation that ultimately the goal will be reached and we will all see salvation. I do NOT think it means that one abides with a person in the constant hope that our love will change them in some human fashion. I think the patience is patience unto eternity, not unto mere Earthly change, although we may never stop praying and hoping for that as well. To give an example, to be patient with a grumpy, ungodly person, is to hope that he or she will become a grumpy, godly person. The patience here does not necessarily entail the hope that the person become cheerful and godly--although that is not a bad thing to hope for--it isn't the necessary thing.

The next phrase, "Love is kind," might be interpreted to mean rather that love always has at heart the best interests of the beloved. That is true kindness, not simply the surface show of etiquette or hospitality. If seen in this way, the actions Jesus takes with regard to the Pharisees and moneychangers become supremely kind. If He does not shock these people into alertness, into being alive and awake, they will spend eternity in their torpor. Would it be a kindness to bless someone into Hell? Kindness also should never be confused with niceness, which as C.S. Lewis points out, can often accompany the most dastardly and evil acts. Niceness is mere surface, kindness is to the bone.

These thoughts are not definitive, nor, probably well-formed or complete. But they offer a surface view of the depth of this passage. And I hope they provoke you to going to your Bible, picking it up and spending some time with Paul--seeking understanding from this great teacher of the Church.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 9, 2009 7:22 AM.

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