Called to Action by Love
One theory regarding the universe is that God created everything, set it in motion, and then sat back to watch how history would unfold. In this scenario, God is simply a character like a watchmaker who has a master vision of how all the gears will work together and accomplish the desired outcome – keeping time in a regular rhythm.
God, as we know God, is not a glorified watchmaker. Though there is much we do not know about God and much we only surmise, we do know from the Gospels and from the letters of St. John that God is love. St. Paul goes so far as to say that the most important thing for any of us is love. Underlying all the wonderful gifts God gives to the community are faith, hope, and love. These three gifts from God are all that remain when everything else is taken away. Of these three gifts, “the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13)
Since love is so fundamental, it’s important to understand what is meant by the word love. Greek, the language in which the Christian scriptures are written, distinguishes among different forms of love. One is the sensual, bodily love that we see so often on television and in movies – romantic love or passionate love for something or someone. It is known as eros. Another is the affectionate caring between equals, including friends and family. This form of love is called philia. A third is agape, the word used by St. Paul in his first letter to the community in Corinth. The love God has for us is called agape. Agape is also the love of parents for children, or spouses for each other. It assumes a willing of good for the other.
In the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we see examples of love as a call to action. The story of Jeremiah the prophet begins with his call by God to become a prophet. Jeremiah was a young man, probably in his early 20s, when he heard the Lord’s call to become a prophet. (Jer 1:4-5,17-19) Called even before his birth, the Lord chose him to call the people of Israel to faithfulness to the covenant, away from worship of foreign gods. He lived and worked through the rule of three kings and the conquest of Jerusalem by Babylonian forces. He remained in Jerusalem when it was destroyed, still calling the people to worship only the Lord.
Like other prophets, Jeremiah faced much opposition. In fact, he objected to becoming a prophet when he was first called by the Lord because he knew prophets were never well-received. However, the Lord didn’t back down. After telling him about the coming defeat of Israel by Assyria, the Lord promised he would never abandon Jeremiah.
At times it certainly seemed as if the Lord might have abandoned him, but always the Lord supported him in his faithful and courageous witness as he continued to speak out. Though the text doesn’t spell out this thought, it seems that God’s love and care for His people is seen through the call of Jeremiah to remind them of their mutual relationship. God, through Jeremiah, calls them back again and again. Jeremiah’s actions reflect that love for God and for his own nation during times of war and catastrophic defeat.
Jesus too faced opposition as he began his ministry (Lk 4:21-30). Having been awakened to his calling at the Jordan River, he began to preach of God’s love and to heal the sick. In his own village, he read the words of Isaiah regarding the coming of the kingdom of God. When he shared with those who had known him from childhood that he was the one of whom Isaiah spoke, some expressed doubt that it could be true. “Haven’t we known him all his life? Isn’t he the son of Joseph the carpenter?” Jesus did not back down. Instead, he reminded them that prophets are often not appreciated by their own people. In fact, even foreigners sometimes benefited from the help of prophets while the Jewish people were left unaided. Faith is a necessary foundation before help and healing can be received.
Jesus did not back down when challenged. He continued to move forward in his ministry, healing those open to receive it and teaching those open to hear and accept God’s love for them. His response to God’s call was one of loving service to those he met as he traveled through Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and even outside Israel to Tyre and Sidon to the north.
St. Paul makes clear to the people of Corinth that although spiritual gifts are wonderful and can build up the community, the most important things are those that underlie gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healing. (1 Cor 12:31-13:13) Without love to ground them, all the other gifts are worthless. Love, agape, gives meaning to all. Paul uses verbs in Greek to express what love is and is not. For us, love is the noun and adjectives describe its varied expressions. Nevertheless, it’s useful to think of each as part of an action founded in love. Love is not something that just sits around observing the world. Love must be active. God is love and that love overflows into all of creation. God is active love. As the Body of Christ, we are also called to active love. As we live in this love day by day, we will see ever more clearly God’s presence and God’s presence will be ever more visible in us.
Where will I bring love today? Into what hidden corner will I help God’s love to shine? Will a child smile because I reached out? Will an immigrant find legal help? Will someone hungry get a good meal? Will someone who needs a friendly ear find mine ready to listen? Will a widow receive a note letting her know she is not alone and forgotten? Will someone hear a word of encouragement from me?
Love is a not a static object that can be put on a shelf and admired. Love is active and we are called to action. Together we will move mountains and with God’s help, we’ll remake the earth, beginning with our own little corner of it!