Perfect Love

                    Perfect Love
 
1 Corinthians 12:28-13:10
 
Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

On the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Church celebrates two great pillars of the faith who perfectly demonstrate both the diversity and synergy of spiritual gifts. While St. Peter spent much of his ministry urging for unity within the early Church, as seen in 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another,” St. Paul is best known for his missionary travels and challenges to the Church to expand ministry to Gentiles as seen in Romans 1:16, “…for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” In these two leaders we see two calls to love—one within the Church and one beyond the Church—that work together to witness Christ’s love. 

In the Pauline Epistle, taken from 1 Corinthians 12:28-13:10, St. Paul notes that there are various types of spiritual gifts with their own hierarchy; however, love is superior to all gifts surpassing even prophecy and miracles. What makes love so powerful is that it is eternal, complete and fulfilling—that is, it does not fail or cease over time, but rather, it is perfect in itself (vv. 8-9). This is clearly shown to us in Christ who, through His earthly ministry, perfectly fulfilled Old Testament law and prophecy as the embodiment of God’s love and, therefore, established a New Covenant with all mankind. One remarkably unique quality of this superior spiritual gift is its accessibility to all mankind: anyone is capable of love regardless of their identity or background. Nevertheless, it is certainly not easy to practice perfect Godly love, as explained in verses four through seven. 

In the corresponding Gospel passage for this Sunday’s feast (St. Matthew 20:1-16), the parable of the laborers illustrates that God rewards his believers equally without giving preference to anyone who may have found the Church sooner than another man. At that time, this parable directly addressed the relationship between Jews and Gentiles as believers of the Church. But how does this relate to us today? How do we love both those within the Church and those outside the Church? The answer can be found in St. Matthew 22:34-40 when Christ declares love as the greatest commandment—first due to “the Lord your God” and second due to “your neighbor.” 

With no specific restrictions on who is considered as a “neighbor,” Christ instructs us to “love your neighbor as yourself (v. 39).” It is important to note that this does not imply that we should love others in the same way that we love ourselves, because that idea starkly conflicts with the manner in which Christ lived and loved on earth. Instead, we are called to love others as if they are the very same nature as us. This type of love allows us to show empathy and identify with others even though they may be different than us. Even within our own churches, we have a tendency to fall into cliques or social circles and, in many cases, this practice can breed a culture of exclusivity. Outside of our churches, we may show personal biases against complete strangers by making unwarranted assumptions about them. However, what Christ refers to in this verse is that, if we have truly devoted our love to God, then we should be able to see that God’s image and likeness is present in others just as it is present in ourselves, regardless of who they are or where they came from. This type of love is possible when we begin to recognize that true and perfect love is not exclusive or conditional, it is boundless: accessible by all both to give and to receive. Therefore, it is important for us to regard ourselves as no more a saint and no less a sinner than anyone else.

Let us pray for mercy that we may be able to achieve such a perfect love where we are able to identify with others, recognize God’s image in others, and overcome our own selfishness and pride. Let us strive to love as fiercely as Christ loves us, without fear or prejudice, in hopes that it will spread throughout the entire world.