In 1 Corinthians 13.13, that doughty person St. Paul makes the proposition that has consoled people through centuries, "But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love."
Out of curiosity I searched other renderings of the passage. The many, though differing ever so slightly one from the other, included this pleasing one, "So the three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the best one of these is love."
Its simplicity with but one word of more than a single syllable led me to wish it might have come from the pen of a writer from the Canadian Prairies.
But that aside, we cherish that passage and its intent no matter the detail of its presentation. It has provided kindling for the fire of many a Sunday homily and makes for an instructive reflection when considered with the text of this Sunday's Gospel reading.
'Look at the birds of the air; . . . Are you not of more value than they?'
Today's reading from Matthew describes Jesus in a time of much teaching before considerable crowds. I cannot discern how long this time of action and instruction lasted, but Jesus healed many and cured the sick of paralysis, seizures and demonic possession.
His ministrations had earned him widespread renown and had established his credibility with the people. Impressed by what they had witnessed, the people murmured, "H-m-m-m. Maybe we should listen to what he has to say."
A good thought, because Jesus had a lot to say. He legitimizes himself as a faithful Jew in their eyes by saying that he had not come to abolish the law of the prophets but to fulfill it.
Accordingly, he proclaimed the Beatitudes. He expounded on a variety of topics as murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, love of enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting and judging others. We come at last to the two topics recorded in today's text: treasures in heaven and the counselling about not worrying.
Like teachers everywhere, Jesus watched the effect of his words on his audience. Maybe he saw a wandering of attention so he applies a remedy. Having shown the far-reaching nature of God by referring to his care for the brief life of the lilies and grasses of the field, he catches the inattentive with a rhetorical challenge, "Will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?"
The word "faith" recalls the quote from St. Paul which began this meditation. I have long enjoyed it, and often made use of the quote, even to the extent of posing as one knowledgeable in Scriptures, somewhat in this fashion, "As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians . . ."
But now a subtler thought comes. Fancy a conversation with St. Paul. Not sure of how to address him, I go straight to my question, "About 'the three things that remain' – would you agree to this development: that of the three the best is love and so is faith the best and so is hope the best?"
In my fancy, St. Paul says, "Right on!"
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)