Reflection 2/1: Love is…
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
This coming Sunday, we contemplate St. Paul’s immortal love poem (“Love is patient, love is kind, etc.”). I’ll have more to say on Sunday about the content of Paul’s observations—and why using this as a wedding reading is not the best use of the text. However, right now, I want to put the reading in context.
Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, essentially went on a pilgrimage mission project that took him north from Israel, throughout what is now Turkey, the eastern Mediterranean, Greece, and eventually to Rome, where he was martyred. One of the several communities of new Christians he developed was in Corinth, which is in Greece. Corinth was a prosperous sea port, with a cosmopolitan and affluent populace. Paul’s evangelism built an inclusive community of new Christians in this important Roman city.
Paul had no sooner moved on to his next project than he started getting word that the Corinthian community was rife with conflict. While the community was supposed to live, pray, and worship together as equals, pooling their resources, and treating each other fairly, human nature is hard to tame. The aristocratic members of the community started lording over those whose lives and resources were more modest. The Corinthian community included people of different nationalities, women and men, slaves, and laborers and their families. Status and a sense of special privilege was supposed to be out of bounds. This early Christian church was slipping into serious bad habits that threatened to stall the fledging Jesus movement.
Paul wrote a series of letters to the community of Corinth, which have been gathered as two books of the New Testament—1 and 2 Corinthians. He is trying to urge the members of the community to remember the teachings of Jesus, and to live in highest purpose as equals in a sacred community.
Paul is trying to manage the reality that it’s so easy to slip-slide away. The church at Corinth comprises a group of people who seem not to like and respect each other very much; and, they feel the tug of their previous traditions, the society around them, and their own failings. His sermon on love is an attempt to put things aright among the sparring factions by reminding them of their first principles. Living in love is crucial to following Jesus. Paul was only partly successful, but he gave us a powerful, short course in love that has lasted throughout many lifetimes.