Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

By Msgr. John N. Fell

Our Scripture readings this Sunday are among the most powerful texts in the Bible. The first reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, is part of the account of Jeremiah’s call to prophecy. The author gives us the most important detail right at the beginning of the reading: “the word of the Lord came to me” (Jer 1:4). God’s word was effective and all-powerful; by his word God created all that existed and guided the course of human events. This mighty word now came to Jeremiah and revealed to him, and to all the readers of this text, Jeremiah’s special vocation – a call which was God’s own doing.

God’s word revealed to Jeremiah that “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” (Jer 1:5). Before Jeremiah ever came to be, the Almighty had chosen him as his spokesman. He set him apart from his people, consecrating him for his special mission. That mission was to be a prophet, a human who spoke God’s words and conveyed God’s thoughts and judgments to his people. The People of Israel would hear God’s own commentary on their government, their communities, and their lives through the voice of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah briefly objected to God’s plan (see Jeremiah 1:6), but the Lord was insistent. He commanded the prophet to “gird your loins, stand up, and tell them all that I command you” (Jer 1:17). God’s will would be accomplished; Jeremiah would speak God’s word. But that did not mean that the prophet would have an easy time of it. His life would be filled with sorrow and opposition. People would often rather not hear the truth when it shows the corruption, selfishness, or cruelty of their lives; many such people, the mighty and the lowly alike, would attempt to silence Jeremiah. But, of course, God’s word would not be silenced. God promised Jeremiah that he would make him “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass” (Jer 1:18) against all his enemies. As long as Jeremiah remained faithful, God’s word within him would keep him from lasting harm. God himself assured the prophet, “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:19). God’s message to Jeremiah continues to serve as a word of encouragement to all who stand up for God’s truth in a world that often does not welcome it – God will be with them to deliver them!

Our second reading this Sunday, taken from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is one of the most beautiful statements about love in all literature. The beginning section (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) speaks of many of the desired charisms and virtues of the Christian community – the gifts of prophecy, faith, and generous giving. St. Paul says that while all these are desirable and important, if they are not done out of love, they are worthless. Without love, one gains no merit no matter what he does or how good his actions may appear.

In the second section of this reading (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8), St. Paul describes. Many people use the word love to mean many different things. St. Paul tells us, however, that love which is of God has the following characteristics: it is patient and kind; it is not jealous or haughty or rude, nor is it selfish or angry; it does not remember the grievances it has suffered, nor does it accept or encourage evil. In short, while always reaching out to seek the best for others and to minimize their misfortune, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 3:7). St. Paul teaches us that “love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8); since God is love, those who accept this great gift really accept God himself into their lives; empowered by this presence of God within them, they are fortified like Jeremiah to give witness to God’s goodness and truth through their lives. God works through those who love in order to right the wrongs of our world, guide the course of human history, and draw all his people closer to his eternal kingdom.

In the final section of this reading (1 Corinthians 13: 8-13), St. Paul tells us that every other gift, ability, talent, good fortune, etc. is only temporary and will eventually pass away into nothingness. It is only love and its companions, faith (complete trust in God) and hope (a heartfelt desire for the coming fullness of God’s Kingdom), that will endure to eternity. The ancient promise made to Jeremiah is renewed to all those who love: “I am with you to deliver you says the Lord.” (Jer 1:19).

Msgr. Fell is a Scripture scholar and director, diocesan Office for Priest Personnel