God’s Ecstatic Love
  • Sunday, February 3, 2013

Epiphany 4

Jer. 1:4-10 • Ps. 71:1-6 • 1 Cor. 13:1-13 • Luke 4:21-30

Today’s readings speak to us of vocation and of origin and of family, as well as of the often turbulent transition from childhood to maturity. Jeremiah recounts his vocation, saying: “the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”

Here we are reminded that there are no accidents in the economy of salvation, not least when it comes to the destiny of human persons. As Jesus says, “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mark 10:30). The merciful and omnipotent providence of God encompasses the destiny of each of us, and we are seen and known, foreknown, and loved by God from all eternity. And God’s timeless and boundless knowledge and love of each of us is the source of the superlative dignity of every human life, from the first instance of its creation and unto endless ages of ages. As the Psalmist has it, “from my mother’s womb you have been my strength” (Ps. 71:6).

But the plotlines of our individual stories have reference not only to God but to one another as well. We are members of human families, communities, and societies, and we are irresistibly formed by the nexus of these human associations. We have learned a great deal from modern psychology about just how powerfully formative these associations can be, particularly at very early stages of development. All of which speaks to the importance of a family life rooted in the divine knowledge and love which, as we have seen, is the bedrock of the human person’s dignity, and the value of every human life. Our prayer book bears witness to this in speaking of the orientation of Christian marriage toward “the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord” (p. 423).

Our love for one another must be informed by, and an extension of, God’s love for us, as Paul characterizes it in the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 12. To Paul’s list we might add that love is ecstatic. Christian love is not insular, but overflows its own boundaries. The great Christian teacher Meister Eckhart spoke of our creation as a consequence of God’s love, as it were, boiling over.

Thus in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson we see Jesus, the perfect exemplification of God’s love, transgressing the boundaries of the community from which he had received his formation as a child. After reading from the book of Isaiah, Jesus cites to his fellow Nazarenes some well-known stories from the Hebrew Scriptures of God’s mission transcending the boundaries of the community which had been its custodian.

Jesus’ message rings harshly in the ears of his listeners, so much so that they try to murder him (4:2930). We are reminded that the word of true love is a challenge, a threat, to the world’s power structures, precisely because it is ecstatic, overflowing its own boundaries and keeping nothing for itself. To be touched by this divine knowledge and love is to become animated by its dynamism. Ultimately it means being incorporated into the body of Christ, being crucified with him, offered to God on behalf of the world, and to the world as the bread of life.

Look It Up
The third collect for mission at Morning Prayer (BCP, p. 101) nicely captures the dynamic of today’s readings.

Think About It
A central theme running through Scripture is God calling his people out from their places of origin, through challenging circumstances, and into a place of rest and plenty. How has this divine call been played out in your own life? From what, and into what, is God calling you?

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