February 3, 2013 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 12:31 -- 13:13 or 13:4-13
Luke 4:21-30

It is a cliché that someone will climb a mountain to reach a wise man on the top and ask him, “What is the meaning of life?” We are given the answer to that question in the readings today, and we do not even need to climb any mountains. The meaning of life can be considered in two ways. It is the standard model of life, the explanation for why anyone does anything. What motivates one person to serve the poor, while another person tries to get as much money as they can, while another person jumps out of airplanes for fun? This is the domain of psychologists and sociologists. They have come up with many answers, some simple and some complicated. Is there just one motivation with many different expressions or a hierarchy of needs that are satisfied in turn?

But another way to consider the meaning of life is: What should be our motivation? This is the domain of philosophy and theology. This is what St. Paul means today when he says, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” That is the difference between a child and a grown-up: a child does whatever they want to do, but a grown-up decides what their motivation will be, they choose a meaning for life, and then act accordingly. St. Paul is also telling us what meaning of life we should choose: love.

What does it mean to choose love as the meaning of our life? It does not mean to chase a feeling. To chase after romance wherever we can find it is clearly not the profound meaning of life that St. Paul is telling us about. To love on purpose means to see what is beautiful in someone and then to give of ourself for the benefit of the other. This kind of love is why a parent works at a job they hate in order to care for their family. This kind of love is why people choose jobs like teaching that pay much less than other jobs, because they love the children; they see what is beautiful in them and then sacrifice for their benefit. Love is why a person can serve the poor: they see what is beautiful in them and then give of themselves for their benefit.

Whether a person feels love or not does not matter, if they have chosen love as the meaning of their life. That is the grown-up thing to do. A person grows up a little when they marry someone and choose to love them for the rest of their life. They grow up a lot more on the day they no longer feel the love but stay anyway and continue loving.

Jesus Christ is our example of an adult. He chose love as the meaning of his life and then, no matter what he felt like doing, he acted out of love. When he did not want to die on the Cross, he did anyway because he was an adult, more grown-up than any of us. What he felt like doing did not matter nearly as much as what he intended to do. Jesus Christ is treated badly in the Gospel today. He preaches the Good News and the people try to kill him, yet he goes on preaching. He does not kill all of these people with a wave of his hand, as he surely could have. He loves them, because that is what he meant to do.