1 Cor 13:4-7 as an Examen

The homilist at Mass this weekend made the very interesting point that we can, and should, use Paul’s beautiful description of love as a structure with which to consider how well we are living up to our Christian vocation.

You know the text, right?

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

He began by pointing out that we could replace the word “love” in this text, or the relevant pronoun “it”, by the name of Jesus. And it would still make sense. After all, he pointed out, Paul learned about love from his encounter with the Risen Lord.

Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus is not jealous, Jesus is not pompous, Jesus is not inflated, Jesus is not rude, Jesus does not seek his own interests, Jesus is not quick-tempered, Jesus does not brood over injury, Jesus does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

A beautiful variation of the text, right? And perfectly consistent with what we know of Jesus from the gospels.

Now. Put your own name in.

:gulp: A little less consistent, eh?

I like this approach a lot. It’s scriptural; it’s based on the New Testament; and it’s very clear, specific, and easy to apply to our lives. Being led through it this way reminds us that as Christians, we bear the name of Jesus, and are called to live in a way that lives up to that name.

It’s worth remembering that Paul wrote this text to a church that was riven with factionalism, each group believing that they were more blessed, more worthy, more superior in Christian life because of their particular spiritual gifts or position in the community. This was his prescription for them. May we take it to heart in the church today.

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4 Responses to 1 Cor 13:4-7 as an Examen

  1. Theophrastus says:

    Is there really Scriptural support for the claim that Jesus satisfied all these requirements? One can especially point to the negative requirements — was Jesus never quick tempered? What about the withering of the fig tree or the casting out of the money-changers? (According to the Mishnah, the money-changers allowed pilgrims to pay the Mosaic [Exodus 30:11-16] half-sheckel temple tax; the vendors of small animals allowed pilgrims and the penitent to buy items necessary to complete sacrifice rituals.)

    I understand that these events can be interpreted allegorically, but in their plain sense, they seem to indicate a quick-temper — at least on that day.

    • As for the casting out of the money changers, at least one scholar (N.T. Wright, I think) proposes that this was not an act of temper, but rather a deliberately planned demonstration/protest against the entire Temple sacrificial mechanism and/or the powers that were in charge of it at the time.

      But more generally, I don’t think that consistency implies or requires perfection; ie, I don’t think that a statement about a person of the form “N is X” requires that the statement “N is never not-X” be true. When I think of all the times that the disciples asked stupid questions, or all the times that the crowds followed him, the odd fig-tree anecdote doesn’t outweigh the overall impression of patience and forbearance.

      • Theophrastus says:

        Interesting — many things to say about Jesus’s character in the gospels, but I don’t think this is really the place. But to respond to your points — if it was a protest against the sacrificial system then it would be a direct attack on the Mosaic commandments; but if it was a protest against the (incredibly corrupt) leadership of the Temple, that would be another thing altogether. I’ll have to look up Wright’s comments.

        Regarding the logic of statements, the form was a little different, because the statement in Ecclesiastes is negative. So I’m not doubting the claim “Jesus is patient” but I am doubting the claim “Jesus is not quick-tempered.” At least in English, when one makes a negative statement, one thinks it exempts counter-examples. For example, if I say “Garry Kasparov does not lose chess games” without any qualifications then in English I think it means “Garry Kasparov does not lose (any) chess games.”

        But maybe the reasoning does not hold in Greek — I’ll have to check with someone who speaks better Greek than me.

        Now, let me give an argument in favor of the “imperfect” interpretation (which I think you were implying, but since I am slow-witted, let me spell it out): Since all of us are imperfect, and are sometimes impatient, unkind, jealous, pompous, inflated, rude, seeking our own interests, brooding over injury, or rejoicing over wrongdoing — it is pretty good that it is possible for love to also be imperfect — otherwise, we might never be able to experience love!

        • I’m pretty sure the interpretation I’m thinking of came from Wright in his book with Borg, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (which I liked a whole lot better than I expected to when we used it for my course on Jesus & the gospels).

          Regarding the logic of statements & the negative form, I think I apply a different standard to “being” statements than to “doing” statements”. “Jane is not a slob” does not mean that Jane has never been seen in a pair of ratty jeans.

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