Readings: 1 Corinthians 13 v 1
“I will show you a yet more excellent way”
“I will show you a yet more excellent way”, St. Paul says. That more excellent way is his love-song. The image of our lives together as a body encompassing diverse gifts and distinct parts where each works for the good of the whole has its ultimate perfection only through the activity of love, the perfecting virtue. Charity is love, love in its profoundest sense, love as “setting love in order” and bringing to perfection each and every part of the complex of the body, each and every form of love. Ultimately, that body is the body of Christ, the Church, the body within which every other body, both individually and collectively, finds its place and voice.
Love is motion towards another. It does not arise simply from ourselves. For in ourselves our love towards one another is always suspect and self-serving; in short, selfish. It is always less than what it should be, even less than what we want it to be. The poverty of our own loves convicts us. In ourselves, our loves, our desires are incomplete, dangerous, destructive and even quite deadly.
We have to learn this in one way or another. At the same time, we have to learn the greater lesson of the perfecting grace of Christ. Christian love is not about comfort and convenience. It is about sacrifice and commitment. The love of Christ would teach us about the true love of God in and through the forms of our unloveliness but only so as to set us right in love. Without the love of God - so clearly and strongly indicated on this day - there could be no journey, no pilgrimage, no Lent; in short, no love. What that really means is death. Without love we are dead.
“Behold we go up to Jerusalem”, Jesus tells us. He has something in mind that is greater than death. In that going up he would teach us and he would heal us. He would set our love aright. For it is simply the case that we do not really know what we want, we do not really know what is truly good for us, we do not really know what is rightly to be wanted except through the perfecting path of his love. In the Gospel for this day, Jesus tells the disciples what it means for him to go up to Jerusalem with them:
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again.
He speaks of terrible things which we do, terrible things which our hearts and minds in disarray think and do towards one another and ourselves, terrible thoughts and deeds which, ultimately, we do or try to do to God. In short; Christ speaks about his passion. It is not a dream. It is the deeper reality of the love of God which wills to pass through our loves in disarray and disorder so as to set our loves in order.
Christ speaks of his passion. He speaks to us about the depth of God’s love for us. “But they understood none of these things.” We understand so little. It was hid from them and it is hid from us. In a way, we can’t understand except through the journey of Lent. We have to go with Christ. We have to journey with love so that love can set us right. It is a life-long journey. It is simply concentrated for us in the pilgrimage of Lent. It is the way of the rood, the way of the cross.
The problem is that we are blind. We both cannot and will not see what is set before us and what is proclaimed in our midst. There is the ignorance and the arrogance of our self-righteousness; there is the pettiness of our envying's and resentments; there are the posturing's of our self-assurances and vanity, and so on. We are blind to ourselves and to God. We do not understand.
Yet to know our blindness is to begin to see and to begin to understand. At the very least, it might signal an openness to the healing mercy and love of God. Christ does not simply pass us by. He comes to be with us. He would have us journey with him so that we might indeed see and hear and understand. That, too, is part of the Gospel on this day.
We are blind, to be sure, but perhaps we will be like that “certain blind man” who called out ever so persistently: “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” Lent would teach us to avail ourselves of the only mercy there is, the mercy of God towards us. Lent, from that standpoint, is one long Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy upon us.
You see, if love is motion towards another and if our motions of love are altogether compromised and, ultimately, deadly and destructive - so often, we hurt those whom we love the most - then surely we need, totally and absolutely, the love of God. The motion of this perfect love of God towards us is what is given to set our loves in order. There can be no love apart from the love of God.
Jesus wants us to see and understand this. He wants us to enter into his project of redeeming and perfecting love. It means the pilgrimage of Lent with its disciplines and devotions. For such things are the vehicles of the lessons of love. They teach us an understanding of love. For love is not blind - at least, not the love of God - and that is the love which makes all other loves lovely without which they are not only blind but deadly.
Lent is the pilgrimage of love. It is the season of mercy. We are called to repentance for without that we cannot turn to God. Socrates, Plato tells us, once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps, we might add, “the unrepentant life is not worth saving.” It is through repentance and prayer, through discipline and devotion that we enter into the perfecting ways of love. We live in the mercies of God’s love towards us. The love of God is made visible to us in the drama of Christ’s going up to Jerusalem. He goes up to set our lives in order. Will we go with him? Or will we persist in our blindness and folly?
Father Ed Bakker