Saturday, January 27, 2007

1 Corinthians 13: 5-7

I've been finding lectio divina to be such an excellent form of prayer, I've actually dropped back in some of my other practices so I can have time for it. I'm still learning to be patient and let myself engage without thinking about time. As a self-employed consultant, that sorta goes against my grain.

My focus has drifted between a few different passages. Today I landed on verses 5–7:

Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This isn't a particularly easy section to unpack, mostly because it appears to have all it says on the surface. However, if you scratch a little, you find something more underneath. What struck me about this passage was not what Paul says, but what he doesn't say–what he implies or leaves silent.

The latter half of five and verse six are pretty clear. Things begin to get a bit hairy at verse seven: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

What does this mean? Particularly, what does it mean to believe all things or to hope all things? Are we to believe whatever we're told unquestioningly, to hope for things that aren't seemly? Of course not. So there's some clarification that needs to be made. We get a hint in the first clause: "Love bears all things."

It make no sense to talk about bearing something that is completely burdenless. Sometimes people will jokingly comment that they think they can bear something that is enjoyable. It reminds me of when someone does something pleasurable for someone else (like massaging their shoulders or scratching their back), and the recipient turns to them in mock seriousness and says, "I'll give you 30 minutes to stop doing that."

So as a joke, we might "bear with" completely pleasurable experiences, but in the norm, we only talk about bearing things that are burdensome: things that need to be or must be borne. The same goes for endurance. We endure things that are difficult. It makes little sense to endure things that require no challenge.

We bear suffering and pain. We endure ridicule and humiliation. The meaning of these two clauses is hidden by what is not present in the verse. So analogously, we can fill in the meaning for the two other clauses.

Love believes all things.

Does love believe everything, including falsehood and heresy? Clearly not. Love believes all things that must be believed. What does it mean for love to believe all things that must be believed? Isn't that what faith is for? And what about the next clause?

Love hopes for all things.

For all things without restriction? No, but for those things for which we should hope, namely communion with God, attaining the Beatific Vision, for gaining access to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit.

[F]aith, hope, and love abide, these three: but the greatest of these is love.

Love is the greatest because love is what helps us to have these other two virtues in their proper form. Love draws us to faith and gives us hope. Without love, our faith is in some sense lacking. Without love, our hope is, well, hope-less.

We can then back up and use this concept to enlighten us further about verse five and six: "5 Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right."

If we believe what must be believed through love, then part of our adherence to the Church and Its teachings is driven through love. If we hope to attain salvation and the Beatific Vision, it is ultimately our love of the "Truth, the Way, and the Life" that leads us there.

It is not our way that we insist upon, but we need to insist upon the Way.

The last bit of unexplicated text is this: "[I]t is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right."

If love does the insisting, it insists on something outside of us: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What happens when we get bound up in our own activities, even if they are motivated by the right details of faith, is that we become resentful and irritable. We must remember the source of our own faith and hope: love. We must remember that our way is not as important as the Way. It's easy for us to confuse our way with the Way if we focus solely on the details of faith. We have to remember faith and that which should motivate it, love. In the congress between love and faith, faith is present in its fullness. That's not to say we should ignore practices or claims that run counter to the faith. We should rejoice in the right and not the wrong. However, we must attempt to resolve problems in a spirit of love rather than a spirit of irritability and resentment.

There is a point at which we must shake the dust from our feet, but if we do so before we've fully entered the village, we've done so precipitously.

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