Hard Words of Love
(Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/N1KZprcDfBc)
21Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
I’ve often wondered about the expression, “We hurt the ones we love.” It seems like a silly, almost counterintuitive statement to make. After all, we hurting is the exact opposite of loving! No, loving involves tenderness and compassion and joy and empathy and kindness and selflessness and forgiveness. It involves wanting to give rather than to receive. To love someone means to want to help them and encourage them and empower them. In comparison, to hurt someone means to discourage them and disempower them. It means wishing ill-will upon them…to personally or inadvertently inflict harm on them either bodily or spiritually or emotionally. Yes, hurting is the exact opposite of loving. So why does the expression exist? Is there any truth to the expression? Can we hurt the ones we love?
Of course we can hurt the ones we love! Of course there’s truth to the expression! The expression exists because we can be disappointed or misunderstood or neglected or mistreated by the ones we love. They might not know they’re hurting us. On the other hand, they might be fully aware that they’re hurting us. They might not think they’re only hurting us. In fact, they might think they’re loving us BY hurting us. We hurt those we love because we think it’s for their own good. We’re helping them help themselves. By hurting them, they can better understand how to love themselves, or so we tell ourselves. So many justifications, so many motivations…yes, we CAN hurt the ones we love! And somewhat ironically, it is more often than not the ones we love that we hurt the most. Those we hurt that we don’t love tend to be less affected but the hurt. Those we hurt that we love are far more devastated by the pain. Oh yes, we can hurt the ones we love and the hurt is like no other hurt. Just ask anyone who has ever suffered from a broken heart.
Nevertheless, loving someone can, at times, require hurting them. Sometimes we get caught up in hurting ourselves and it takes someone we love to hurt us from the outside to snap us out of our misery. Too easily we get caught up in our sinful natures and they set about eating us from the inside out. It takes someone courageous enough to firmly yet lovingly get us out of the downward spiral of self-involvement. Our readings for this week lift up the power of love and its ability to make us do hurtful things to those we love. We CAN hurt the ones we love and sometimes it isn’t that bad of a thing. Hurting, if done with love, CAN help us.
The prophet Jeremiah was one of the most tortured prophets in all of scripture. God used him to speak some pretty harsh words to the people of Israel and, as a result, few people liked and appreciated him. Yet he remained faithful to God and delivering His words. He had faith in a loving God…faith in a God whose words of condemnation were spoken out of love to bring a wayward people back into loving relationship. God was angry with Israel. The people were caught up with their sinful natures and needed someone who loved them to snap them out of their misery. God hurt the people out of love not hatred. God hurt the people so that they might once again feel love…love of each other and of God. But they were hurtful words. It’s no wonder Jeremiah tried to come up with an excuse not to carry them to the people of Israel. Jeremiah cried out,
“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
God loved Jeremiah. God encouraged Jeremiah. God empowered Jeremiah. God strengthened Jeremiah. God loved his people. God wanted nothing more than to be in loving relationship with His people.
As we heard in last week’s gospel reading that was picked up again in this week’s gospel, Jesus went back to his home church early in his ministry. He stood up and declared that he was the one that the prophet Isaiah spoke of who would “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to love us and help us to better know the love God. Jesus, the Son of God, went to the cross as the ultimate sign of God’s love for us. God loves us! God loved the people of Nazareth. God sent His Son to dwell with the people of Nazareth. And how did they people treat Jesus when he told them he had come to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy? At first they treated him with awe and wonderment. Then they’re doubt and skepticism kicked in—“Wait, isn’t that Joseph’s son?” they asked themselves. Surely a carpenter’s boy didn’t have the right qualifications to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. Yet it was precisely a lowly carpenter’s boy who did fulfill the scriptures. God came to us in a least expected person. God loved us in a least expected way. God continues to come to us in least expected persons and ways. And in a way, God’s coming to us in least expected persons and ways can appear hurtful. Certainly the Nazarenes of Jesus’ church felt hurt by Jesus’ revelation. They were hurt when he told them, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” They were hurt to think that not only was God’s love personified in Jesus, a hometown carpenter’s boy, but that they couldn’t fully realize his love because the love of prior prophets wasn’t fully realized by their hometowns. How did they react to the hurt? Luke writes, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” Miraculously, Jesus eludes the angry mob and escapes. But they were hurt, hurt by one of their own…hurt by one they had loved. Again, the expression, “We hurt the ones we love,” rang true. Did Jesus knowingly hurt his fellow townspeople? Did Jesus maliciously hurt his fellow townspeople? Or did Jesus lovingly hurt his fellow townspeople? I like to think he did it out of love and necessity. His ministry needed to start somewhere…what better place than one’s hometown.
So is love the greatest of the three qualities (faith, hope, and love) expounded on in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians? Of course it is! Love is what holds relationships together. Love is all the things that Paul claims it be. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Love is a gift and a blessing. Without love, our world would simply fall apart. We need love just as much as food and water and air and shelter. Faith and hope are good but not essential. But the thing about love is that it can make us do somewhat irrational things. At times, love can make us be hurtful. Scripture gives witness to the hurtfulness of love. But love also serves a higher purpose of keeping us connected with God and each other. Without connection, we are nothing but dust in the wind. Respect the love God has for us. Respect the love we share with each other. Respect our tendencies to drift away from each other and God. In these situations, respect the necessity of the…hard words of love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.