Sunday, February 03, 2019

The Power(lessness) of Love

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Video: YouTube BonnieRaittVEVO

My dear friends, what do you think? Is love powerful or powerless? I’m sure many of us have heard songs about the power of love, right? But do you know any songs that sing about love’s powerlessness? Are you familiar, for example, with these words from a love song released in 1991?

'Cause I can't make you love me if you don’t.
You can't make your heart feel something it won’t.
Here in the dark, in these final hours,
I will lay down my heart, and I'll feel the power.
But you won’t. No, you won’t.
'Cause I can't make you love me, if you don’t.

These words are sung by someone who realises, painfully, that the one she loves doesn’t love her back. And one striking thing about the song is how it shows love to be both powerful and powerless at the same time. On the one hand, her love for the beloved gives the singer the power to lay down my heart, even when her partner doesn’t do the same. And yet, on the other hand, she is also pitifully powerless. ‘Cause I can’t make you love me, if you don’t… I can’t make you love me. That’s the title of this sad but beautiful song about the powerlessness of love.

Yes, it’s true, isn’t it, my dear friends? Love is often both powerful and powerless at the same time. This is also what we find in our readings today. In the first reading, we’re told that the word of the Lord was addressed to the prophet Jeremiah. And this word is at once a word of love and a word of power. For God tells Jeremiah that, even from his mother’s womb, God has lovingly known him and formed him, consecrated him and appointed him as prophet to the nations. This call, this vocation, gives Jeremiah power to speak courageously in the name of God. To confront all this land of Judah, its leaders and its people, even when they offer him stiff resistance and cruel persecution. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you. This, my dear friends, is the power of love.

And yet, although Jeremiah speaks in the power of God’s loving word, his ministry is also marked by powerlessness. For, however hard he tries, and however loudly he cries, Jeremiah fails to turn the people’s hearts back to God. Like the singer of that sad song, he is unable to make the people love the One who loved them first. I can’t make you love me, if you don’t.

And what is true of Jeremiah is true also of Jesus. Of course, we know that Jesus is more than just a prophet speaking God’s word. As John’s gospel tells us, Jesus is himself the Word of God made flesh for us. And, as Word of God, who is Love, Jesus wields great power. He is able to win the approval of the people in the synagogue by the gracious words that came from his lips. He is able even to escape the crowd, when it turns hostile, and tries to corner him and kill him.

And yet, powerful though he may be, in the gospel, Jesus also shows a mysterious powerlessness. For although he has worked great miracles in Capernaum, he doesn’t seem able to do the same in Nazareth, his own hometown. For he says that no prophet is ever accepted in his own country. Like Jeremiah the prophet, and like the singer of that sad song, Jesus seems unable to make people love the One who loved them first. I can’t make you love me, if you don’t.

Like that sad song, the experiences of Jeremiah and Jesus show us that love is often both powerful and powerless at the same time. But that’s not all, my dear friends. The Scriptures actually show us something even deeper about true love, about God’s love. For although, in the gospel, Jesus amazes us by miraculously escaping those who want to kill him, this is not the full extent of his power. Further on in the story, Jesus will show an even greater power than this. Do you know how he does it? Not by escaping those who want to kill him, but instead by humbly submitting himself to them in love. 

For the amazing thing about God’s love is not just that it is both powerful and powerless at the same time. But, even more than that, God’s love actually shows its power most clearly, most wonderfully, most effectively, precisely in its powerlessness. Isn’t this what we find in the second reading as well. Which describes love as being always patient and kind… never jealous… never boastful or conceited… never rude or selfish… The power of love is shown most of all in its powerlessness. In its ability to remain patient and kind, even unto death. Death on a cross.

And, if this is true, then perhaps, unlike the singer of that sad song, Jesus does actually have a mysterious power to make me love him, even when I don’t. Even when I find it difficult to be patient and kind. Even when I find it difficult not to be jealous, or boastful, or conceited… Difficult to truly lay down my heart for love of God and of my neighbour, my family, my colleagues, my friends, and even my enemies. When I find myself becoming more selfish than selfless, more indifferent than loving, perhaps what I need to do is to again gaze upon the Crucified One, who shows his love for me by humbly hanging on a cross. Isn’t this why we take the trouble to gather to celebrate Mass every Sunday? So that we may remember Christ’s loving sacrifice for us, and draw power from his utter powerlessness. So that I may be made to love him, whom I so often do not love enough.

‘Cause I can’t make you love me, if you don’t.
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to allow the powerless One to give us power to love him even more than we do today?

1 comment:

  1. father chris, sometimes the ability to accept love is a form of courage in and of itself. as a famous saying in the movie Moulin Rouge goes, the greatest thing you'll ever learn, is to love and be loved in return. it is because we are all broken, that we may not be able to find ourselves worthy of the love of our dear lord. especially if we have found ourselves guilty of sin. the journey to love will never leave us lost if we follow our shepherd, as he is the King of Love.