The greatest of these is love

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends ... And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13)

What happens when we love and are loved? In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he was writing to a community that was deeply divided and struggling because of their conflicting viewpoints. In this familiar passage, he urges love for one another. Love is the pathway to building a harmonious community, even despite differences. The Greek word Paul uses in this passage is “agape,” which translated, means unconditional regard for the other, even someone you may not like. Unconditional. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed Paul’s sentiment in his frequent references to the “beloved community.” Rev. King said, “Love is creative and redemptive.” He had a vision of a world in which the creative power of love could transform hearts and even overcome racial divisions to create that “beloved community.”

You may know the story Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli. Mr. Hatch is a sad, lonely man who works at a dreary job and eats the same, dreary lunch every day. A cheese and mustard sandwich with a prune for dessert. And then one day, a package arrives in the mail. It’s a heart-shaped box of chocolates with a card attached saying, “Somebody loves you.” Suddenly, Mr. Hatch feels different. He eats a piece of chocolate. He starts whistling. He takes the box of chocolates to work and shares them with everyone. He starts greeting his co-workers with a smile. He tries something different for dinner, and even makes brownies and lemonade to share with the neighborhood children. They flock to his backyard. Everybody loves Mr. Hatch!

And then, the postal carrier returns to Mr. Hatch’s house to apologize because he delivered the box by mistake. Mr. Hatch is tempted to return to his sad, dreary life. But he is stopped by the people to whom he has shown love. They throw him a party. Mr. Hatch has been transformed by sharing love, and so has his community.

Who do we know who may be feeling alone and lonely? Psychologists are warning us to think especially about people who may be feeling isolated and lonely as the result of our current social distancing. Do we know anyone who needs a box of chocolates and a card? Sharing love can transform both the giver and the receiver.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”