And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. We hear this at weddings, but when Paul writes this epistle, the context is not connubial bliss. He is chastising the affluent Christians in Corinth for treating the poor as undeserving dependents. They measure themselves by social, not divine, standards, and they expect that the losers will go home from the community dinner with an acute understanding of how undeserving they are. Is it arrogance or insecurity that influences their thinking about who gets it right with God? Arrogance and narcissism often have their roots in anxiety about how loved one feels. Paul is quite clear that Love is the standard, and that all who follow Jesus are measured according to the love they share, because we are beloved of God.
I have begun to think that if there is such a thing as Original Sinfulness, it is rooted in the fear that God favors someone else above us. Part of this may be influenced by our relationship with our own parents. (“Mom always loved him better”). Part of this is our general spiritual insecurity. (We all know our secret sins and we are afraid that God may abandon us because of them). In our anxiety, we might want to buy that tee shirt that says Jesus loves you, but I am his favorite. If we want to have a holy and adult relationship with God, and with our families and neighbors, we need to get over this.
God does not operate this way. God showers blessing on all sorts of people that we may not like. This happens more than once, if we believe the scriptures. That is what is going on in today’s gospel story. The Chosen People have long assumed that they are the sole beneficiaries of God’s favor, the only ones who can receive the blessing. And Jesus reminds them – in a manner that is less than diplomatic – that God has chosen to favor other people in the past. Like the widow at Zarepheth, the gentile town that Jezebel called her home, whose dead son was restored to life. Like the Syrian Naaman, the gentile whom Elisha cured of leprosy. Sometimes, God chooses other people.
Looking for some special treatment from their own hometown prophet, the faithful people who are sitting in the synagogue are disappointed. This is not the good news they were expecting. They rise up and try to chase Jesus out of town. Who does this upstart think he is? After all, his family is from Nazareth. Jesus is the local celebrity, but it is not possible that he is any better than they are! And he has just told them that he cannot – or will not – perform miracles for them, inferring that the fulfillment of God’s word does not include them. At least, not this week.
The Messiah has just informed his townfolk that they have lost the spiritual super bowl. Ouch. When Jesus leaves town, he goes and blesses the poor, the sick, the outcast.
When we pray, how much does our anxiety influence the conversation? Are we whining about what we deserve? Do we have the stamina to perceive the blessings? Are we trying to perceive or avoid curses? Or is prayer a time in the outer darkness to cool off?
Sometimes we receive particular blessings: physical healing, good fortune, the job we really wanted. And sometimes, we do not receive an outright sign of blessing. Sometimes we carry a heavy cross and we suffer terribly. That does not mean that we are not beloved by God. It does mean that we do not always get what we want. Life is difficult and God has logic we can never understand. (Read the Book of Job).
Have you ever lived through a time of enormous adversity and only in retrospect find the blessing in the experience? We can often see someone else receiving a blessing. That does not mean that we are less blessed.
Just as God knew Jeremiah and the psalmist from before their birth, God has known each of us. Because God is not hindered by the limitations or biases of humanity, it is absolutely possible for God to know each one of us personally and completely – including our faults and shortcomings – and still love us as a favorite child. If God our divine Creator can only be as happy as the least happy child, every day must have the Holy One shedding tears. That is the real blessing. There is nothing we can do which can diminish God’s love for any of us. God’s love is patient. God’s love is kind. God’s love is long suffering. Prophecies and knowledge and pandemics come to an end. God’s love never ends. You are Abba’s favorite. And so are you. You always have been.
God has blessed us all because we are loved, with all our internal fractures and anxieties. Remember that. and please go out into the world and do likewise.