January 30, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17 (see 15ab)
1 Corinthians (12:31 – 13:3) 13: 4-13
Over many years of ministry, I have participated in hundreds of weddings, and at most of them I have heard the text from 1 Corinthians that the Lectionary assigns for today. The words of this text are so familiar that they seem anything but edgy; rather, hearing them can give us self-satisfied feelings of warmth and comfort, as though they were describing us: “Hey, I’m patient and kind—and I’m not envious or boastful or arrogant!”
The Corinthian community that first heard these words were likely to have had a far different reaction. Up to this point in his letter, Paul had chided them for their inhospitality at table to those who were less well-off and had also rebuked them for laying claim to some sort of status for various spiritual gifts, such as tongues and prophecy.
In his instruction on the spiritual gifts, Paul concludes, “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). What follows is, of course, the passage that we hear today about love, the greatest of all the gifts. The manifestations that the Corinthians have so proudly embraced—speaking in tongues, uttering prophecy, having faith, giving away everything, even offering up one’s body—all these are futile, Paul asserts, without love.
When he writes about love, Paul uses the Greek word agape, which goes far beyond romantic attraction (eros) or familial affection (philia). Agape is unconditional—it is the kind of love that God has shown for humanity, a love that always seeks the good of the other, even at personal cost.
Paul lists qualities of agape of which the Corinthians have shown little evidence. They have not been patient or kind; they have been envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, willful, irritable, and resentful. Although he never denigrates the gifts manifested by various members of the community, he puts them in perspective. All of them will ultimately pass away. Love (agape) alone endures.
I can’t help but wonder what tone Paul was intending in this passage. One could read it as we usually hear it, with a sense of awe at the beauty of love, but one could also imagine a tone of stern exhortation directed at people who have been missing the mark in their treatment of others. While the text conveys a beautiful ideal of how love should be lived, it is at the same time a carefully targeted message that addresses the specific situation of a real flesh-and-blood community.
There’s little doubt that Paul’s words in this passage need to be proclaimed today in our churches, families, and communities. Conflict, pettiness, and arrogance are unfortunately as common now as they were in the Corinthian community of Paul’s time. These ways of behaving all too often lead to family estrangement, neighborhood disputes, and church splits. I recently heard a relatively new pastor who, following a congregational meeting, registered surprise that members had treated one another as Christians, with love—the first time she had seen that in a long time. I sensed her sadness that she had previously encountered Christians who had not behaved with love for one another.
While this passage continues to be appropriate for celebrations of marriage, I hope that those who hear it will become more deeply aware of its full import. We are called to a love that is demanding and costly—the kind of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
A Hymn for Today: “El Amor / O Amor/ Only Love”
Dominican composer Rafael Grullón has created an original tune along with his own paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 In Spanish. His text has been translated into Portuguese by Brazilian musician Simei Monteiro and into English by U.S. musician and minister S. T. Kimbrough, FHS. Both translations are set to Grullón’s original tune.
El amor, el amor es sufrido y sacrificial.
Quien ama es capaz de morir;
quien ama siempre debe tratar de no herir.
El amor es benigno, y es así porque Dios es amor.
El amor, el amor nunca piensa solo para sí;
se goza siempre de la verdad
perdona y nunca guarda rencor, ¡todo lo cree!
El amor verdadero es así porque Dios es amor.
O amor, o amor é sofrido e sacrificial.
Quem ama é capaz de morrer;
quem ama sempre deve tratar de não ferir.
O amor é benigno, e é assim porque Deus é amor.
O amor, o amor nunca pensa somente em si;
com a verdade vai se alegrar;
perdoa e nunca guarda rancor e tudo crê.
O amor verdadeiro é assim porque Deus é amor.
Only love, only love suffers all and sacrifices all.
It dares to risk and face even death;
it always seeks to heal and to mend, tries not to hurt!
Love is kind and forgiving; love is all this and more:
God is love!
Only love, only love thinks of others, not just of itself,
rejoices not in wrong but in truth;
forgives all things and holds not a grudge, believes and hopes!
When it’s true, real, and faithful, love is all this and more:
God is love!
Text: Based on 1 Corinthians 13; Rafael Grullón, b. 1933; Portuguese trans. by Simei Monteiro, b. 1943; English trans. by S. T. Kimbrough, Jr. © 1987, Abingdon Press, admin. Music Services. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Music: Rafael Grullón
Image Credit: Heart of the World, Mikhail Reva, Odessa Children’s Hospital, 21st cent.
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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