Things that trip us up


In today’s epistle, the Love Chapter from 1st Corinthians, Paul says:

If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Through several accidents of tradition and translation, some folks today say that all of Christianity can be boiled down to social justice issues. And, in a way, they may be right: for love of God and love of neighbor fulfills the law. They then get carried away, saying that doing social justice is all that is needed. And Paul says no. In fact in three phrases from Corinthians, boom, boom boom, Paul says:
If I know everything (aka smarts are all you need) but don’t have love – it’s useless.
If I preach all the theology but don’t have love – it’s useless
If I have given away everything to care for others but don’t have love – it’s useless.
For all the saints, all of these things – goods in and of themselves – must flow from love, or they are pointless. They are not good enough.
This is not “love” a warm gushy feeling, nor is it “love” a passionate doing. This is Agape. This is what St John says is God’s very personal presence. God is Agape. Paul says it’s possible to do all these things without God.
That’s not good enough.
You can’t do theology properly without kindness, patience, and a generosity of heart: Jesus is the Way – and so you need Jesus. You can’t do wisdom or politics without forgiving others and forgetting wrongs done to you: you need to have the Truth to do these things and Jesus is the Truth. You can’t do social justice without forgiveness and a rejoicing in the Truth. If you’re walking the way, in relationship to truth, you can live the life – and Jesus is the Life. You need all three: Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life; Jesus, God’s love most clearly expressed. Jesus makes possible to do in love for the healing of the world other things which – of themselves – cannot save us, can damn us with pride, can destroy our souls in pointless exhaustion and, irony of ironies, are needed to show that our faith is real.
But Jesus – Agape – comes first. For Jesus, only and always, is enough.
And having Jesus, all these other things will happen of themselves as the fruit of that presence.
Since Calvin, the growing idea that God’s blessing is shown in material wealth as led to a corruption of Christian teaching that wealth alone, and the action we do with it, displays where we are in God’s universe. The secular ideologies of Capitalism and Socialism are Scylla and Charybdis, destroying us with presence and absence of wealth and both without God. Paul says love. We put the cart before the horse if we fall for any of our secular banalities, each one equally demonic without Christ and neither fully true. It is possible to either to use in support of the Truth, but both will be modified, both will be repaired. We can argue forever which one is closer or further and one is condemned by the Church, but neither are the Church’s. We cannot forget that.
So it is with any social justice issue: it’s fine. But it’s not the Church. If it can’t be done with a love for the revealed Truths of Christ or a dancing in the Way of Christ, if it can’t be lived in Christ’s life, then it’s a distraction in the least, or something far worse.
In our modern pride we often imagine that Jesus would most certainly do what we are doing. We imagine Jesus marching in any number of political marches of all sorts and conditions. Jesus always supports us and our point of view. It’s easy to see this when we’re looking at someone else: they have made Jesus in their own image.
Once I was a child, and thought as a child. But as an adult I put away childish things.
Jesus is actually quite real, active, and present. Discarding political, economic, and legal toys you may find that he is here to save you. And once that’s accomplished, finally, he may have other work for you. He will get that first step done, however.
Once you finally learn to love him and to love like him (all the way to death on the cross), then likely he will in resurrection bring you others to love.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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