I was talking with a friend recently about this VERY well-known passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians — the reading that almost everyone chooses for their wedding day — the hymn to Love. These verses sound so flowery to us sometimes… so light and fluffy.
“Love is patient. Love is kind. Love believes all things. Love never fails.”
Slap those on a coffee mug and sell it on Etsy! You can’t lose! Everyone loves these words!
But my friend said to me: “You know, most of the time — we completely miss the context of what Paul is really talking about here.”
I asked: “Well, what do you mean?”
She replied: “You can’t read these words without the Cross.”
The context for Paul’s passage on Love — the full weight of these words — cannot be fully grasped without a meditation on the Cross — without a meditation on rejection!
Let’s do just that right now together.
Let’s re-read this famous passage about love — but through the lens of the Cross. Through the lens of rejection!
Love is patient! The very word “patience” comes from the Latin word for suffering — “patiens.” This is where we get the word “Passion” of Christ. To be patient is to suffer with and for somebody else.
Jesus on the Cross… is patient.
Love is kind. Who is more kind than Jesus on the Cross, who prays so sincerely and so kindly for his sworn enemies? — “Father forgive them! They know not what they do!” Nowadays, we see and hear the phrase “Be Kind” plastered just about everywhere. And we ought to be kind, right? Yes! But all too often — “Be Kind” gets reduced down to a superficial “Niceness” or “Agreeableness.”
But here’s the reality — there is no room for superficiality on the Cross!
Jesus on the Cross… is kind.
Next up — Love is not jealous, it is not pompous.
In other words, Love is not proud and showy. Instead, Love is humble. Where do we see humility more on display, but when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples the night before he died? It is so humble, in fact, so lowly — that Peter fiercely objects: “Lord, you will NEVER wash my feet!”
But Jesus on the Cross… is not pompous.
Love does not seek its own interests… Jesus said it himself: “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done!” He didn’t want to be in excruciating pain… but He was willing to do so for our sake…
Jesus on the Cross does not seek his own interests.
Love is not quick-tempered.
Jesus didn’t rise up in outrage when he was condemned to die. Neither did he lash out at the thief who mocked him and told him to come down off the Cross. All his life, Jesus was repeatedly rejected — and though at important moments, Jesus responded with appropriate, righteous anger, did he ever blow up in uncontrollable, disordered wrath? Did he ever take to Twitter or the blogosphere and launch a total, merciless assault against those who defied him?
No… of course not. As the Old Testament put it over and over: “The Lord is slow to anger.”
We saw this on full display in our Gospel today, didn’t we? All of a sudden, the people of Nazareth rise up in anger, drive Jesus out of town, and then try to throw him off a cliff! What does Jesus do in response? He “passed through the midst of them and went away.”
Isaiah’s prophecy is perfectly fulfilled in him his entire life, and most especially on Good Friday: “Though harshly treated, he submitted. Like a lamb led to slaughter… he did not open his mouth.”
Think for a moment: What causes you to lose your temper? What sets you off? Remember…
Jesus on the Cross is not quick-tempered.
Next… Love does not brood over injury
Does anyone think Jesus grumbled and complained about the betrayal of Judas on the way up to the Cross? Did he brood over the fact that all his friends had abandoned him? Of course not! Nobody in their right mind would ever accuse Jesus of brooding over injury on Calvary. He went there precisely to forgive ALL injuries! To heal all wounds!
What injuries are you brooding over? Who do you still need to forgive? Remember —
Jesus on the Cross does not brood over injury.
St Paul then tells us… Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth! Again, this is revealed perfectly on the Cross. When Christ sees the truth and sincerity of that good thief hanging beside him — he rejoices, doesn’t he? He promises him: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” After this light and momentary pain — you will rejoice!
Jesus on the Cross rejoices with the truth!
Paul then ends his beautiful hymn on love with these words: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things — Love never fails!
We could just as easily say that the Cross bears all things. The Cross believes all things. The Cross hopes all things. The Cross endures all things!
The Cross — the power of Christ crucified, the perfect sacrifice for every sin ever committed — NEVER fails.
We could go on and on and on with this meditation. But suffice to say: Jesus is Love. God is love. And in the end, Love only makes sense if you keep it fixed onto a Cross.
Because Love is always willing to be rejected.
I am sure that everyone here today has experienced some form of rejection in their lives.
Maybe you didn’t feel fully loved or appreciated by your parents or your family. Maybe you got bullied at school. Maybe you got dumped by someone you really loved. Maybe someone let you down, or disappointed, or wounded you in a deep, lasting way. Maybe your kids have left the faith. Maybe they’ve made life-choices that fill you with excruciating pain. Maybe you feel like you’ve failed the people you love the most…
Whatever form of rejection we have experienced, big or small — We all know full well: Rejection hurts. None of us wants to be rejected. It feels like being torn apart. It feels like being crucified…
And yet, Love that isn’t willing to be crucified isn’t really love at all…
On the Cross, Love got definitively rejected in the most complete way possible. Jesus is Love incarnate. If anyone deserves to be embraced and accepted and wanted and desired and loved —
And yet, except for a handful of people weeping at the foot of the Cross… nobody really wanted him. Nobody desired him. He was forsaken and left for dead. Strung up. Mocked. Ignored. Smacked around and spit on.
Unfortunately, this is still happening today. People are still rejecting Love and preferring just about everything else… Vacations. Romance. Sports. Education. Careers. Politics.
“Love is not loved!” — as St. Francis of Assisi moaned. Love Himself is ignored, denied, betrayed, and rejected!
And yet, somehow this Rejected Love, this Abandoned Love, this Forsaken Love, this Crushed Love of our God and Savior is still able to make all things new!
As Catherine Doherty once wrote so beautifully: “Deep down in our hearts, we know that His rejection is the healing for our rejection.”
His rejection gives us hope! It gives us clarity and peace. It breaks the cycle of sin by grace and reforges our broken relationship with God. It heals our wounds!
By his wounds, we are healed.
By his Cross, we triumph!
God promised Jeremiah in our first reading this weekend: “It is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass! They will fight against you — [they will betray and reject you!] — but they will not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”
They will not prevail over God’s Love!
So do not give in to despair!
Do not be discouraged by the weight of Rejection!
Instead, come again to the foot of the Cross. That’s what we do every time the Holy Eucharist is offered. Here, we lift up Jesus — We lift up Divine Love on this altar. Here there is no obnoxious, resounding gong or clashing cymbal — just the clear ringing of the Sanctus Bells. They ring to call attention to the fact that True Love is found and received here.
And we know full well —
Love never fails.
The Cross never fails.
The Eucharist never fails.