Each of us has a story. It starts at the moment of conception really but goes beyond that. For instance, in my case, I am the fourth child of my parents and the first son among the nine of us. The birth of a male child means a lot within the African culture. That is just the beginning of my story. My complete story is that I am God’s child created to serve him as a priest and to support others in their faith. This story empowers me in my relationship with others and to also work for my own salvation. That is my complete story. This is what the prophet Jeremiah reminds us of in the first reading of today by highlighting what should be the true story. Our authentic story is written by God, “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. 1:4). God knows you and has created you for a great purpose. Your identity, image, and dignity come from God. That is your story.
Jesus speaks to the people in the gospel revealing to them his story. He is the fulfillment of the prophets. Ironically, the people have their own story about who he is supposed to be and won’t believe him. For that reason, they ask, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” This is their story of Jesus. They do not know that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, sent into the world to free captives and to declare God’s year of favor. As in the experience of the prophet Jeremiah, the people attack Jesus. They revolt against him, ready to throw him off a cliff because he does not fit into their story of who the Messiah is supposed to be. Scripture says, “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.” The prophet declares, “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer. 1:19). My question for you is this, “What is your story?” Are you allowing someone, or letting fear, anxiety, or addiction change God’s story of you?
When I was leaving Nigeria for the United States, I was told a lot of stories about the US and about the people of America. One story that stood out was the sex scandal in the Church at the time. The story was that every priest in America is subject to the allegation. I was warned to not hug anyone in America as that already would be one step to my imprisonment. Whereas I heard so many good things, that negative narrative stood out for me. Those people meant well and I listened. I was careful. But it could have made me scared, nervous, and aloof. Can you imagine an aloof Fr. Vin? But I discovered the true story about my mission which is that God’s love should be made available through me for my congregation. That the people of God are sources of love for me in a genuine way. The truth is that our stories find meaning in Christ Jesus.
The qualities of love speak to its generosity and sacrifice. Love is first and foremost sacrificial. Agape love is pure, willful because it intentionally desires another’s highest good. Agape love bears fruit in us through baptism. Saint Paul reminds us that we can possess all other gifts and talents, command influences, and authorities, but if we lack love, we count as nothing. Here, Paul challenges us in a unique way when he says: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor.13:4-8)
Is this kind of love a part of your story? How does your story connect to this scripture passage? Think about how much conflict, confusion, anger, jealousy, rivalry, betrayal, hurt, and pain exist, and how these spike anxiety in our time. Just think about your close friend or even spouse for a moment. What comes to your mind -patience, kindness, meekness, truthfulness, gentleness, safety, protection, compassion? Are those what you remember? Or do you remember pride, arrogance, negativity, disrespect, anger, envy? Can you say of yourself that your love is patient enough? As a spouse, is your love patient enough? As a parent, is your love patient enough? At work, is your love patient enough? Or are you quick-tempered, ready to judge, condemn? Are you easily angered? Are you aware that love nourishes trust? Think about this statement, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Most relationships are struggling because some persons only see the negative in the other person. When you constantly criticize him/her. When all you do is constantly remind her/him of her mistakes, failures, faults, you end up constructing negative stories.
Our relationship with God directly affects our relationships with others. If I understand that I am created by God and for God, that I am loved without limit by Him, then my relationships with others change. Why? We can only build holy relationships if we let love reign. Love is the antidote to the wounds we carry because it substitutes negative stories with positive ones. In the Blessed Eucharist, we share in Christ’s love. Our communion in the Blessed Eucharist makes us carriers of God’s love. Hence, our story becomes the story of God’s love in Christ Jesus. This cannot be changed by anyone or anything else because God’s love is consistent and never fails. It manifests in the words we speak. It expresses itself in our presence for others. It reveals itself by our commitment to the welfare of others. It speaks kindness and compassion.
Love challenges us to give more of ourselves to others, not counting the cost. We may ask, why are we experiencing a spike in anxiety in this generation? The answer is that individuals care mostly about themselves. There’s a lack of concern about the feelings of others. The irony is that it is a generation that talks about emotions and feelings a lot, yet a generation that promotes provocative behavior, selfishness, and gross insensitivity. Life has become more about what I want to do and how that makes me feel, rather than what God wants me to do and how that affects others. For this reason, a lot of people are scared about the next moment. If someone feels good about releasing poison into the atmosphere, it does not matter as long as it makes the person feel good. Life has been reduced to mere relativism -my needs, my wants, my feelings, my desires, my body.
Different questions go on in people’s minds- Is it possible to wake up tomorrow and not have enough food for my kids because one selfish person or some individuals may feel like taking all the food? Is it possible to take my kids to school and not have them back because one crazy person may go on a shooting spree and kill the kids in school? What if my kids get hurt? Is it possible that one crazy person may drive into me with no explanation and crash my car? What if I get killed? So, there is a lot of “what ifs” now. Kids wonder. Parents doubt. The young feel they are the rightful heirs of today’s world and do not need the wisdom of the old. The old feel like the young are stupid and lack perception about how to live. There is a lack of trust, and the world is full of suspicion, completely polarized. People have different false and conflicting narratives. It becomes who has the capacity to tell the story. Who is the bestseller?
My dear friends, let us not make love look like a victim in today’s world. Let us rethink the mindset that says, “my love,” and not God’s love. Love concerns itself with the other person. Christ showed us an example by giving his life for us. St. Paul challenges us to reflect on this today. What does it mean to say, “Love never fails?” It means genuine love anchored on God’s love. I wish to reecho this scripture passage, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). My message for you is to not let anything change God’s love story for you. God loves you so much and has perfectly written your story. No one owns you other than God. No one owns this world, too, other than God. If you believe God’s story about you, you always trust Him. Kindly look forward in hope to the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year, and to a fulfilling future. Let’s let love reign, for love tells the best story.
Readings: 1st- Jer. 1:4-5, 17-19; 2nd- 1 Cor. 12:31-13:13; Gospel- Lk. 4:21-30