The title of a highly acclaimed musical comedy, “I Love You; You’re Perfect; Now Change,” describes some of the dynamics found in many human love relationships. We can genuinely love someone and be captivated by that person’s charm and wit, intelligence and sensitivity, unselfishness and caring—and soon we feel a responsibility to overhaul what we think should be changed. On stage this is a sure recipe for wicked humor, but in real life it can tear the love relationship apart.
Some form of love underlies every story ever told, and most music ever composed. After all, “Love makes the world go round.” Love is a primary motivator of certain human behaviors, and it also serves as a deterrent to other ways of acting. When we are young, we think we know so much about it. Then as we get older, we realize just how little we actually know. Still, throughout life, everyone searches for some form of love.
Today’s reading from Corinthians is the classic definition of love. Even those who do not cherish our biblical faith acknowledge this. While the reading might affirm the first part of the musical’s title, “I Love You,” it does not hold to the other two. If the people we love were perfect, we would not have to be “patient,” as Paul insists, nor would we have to “bear all things.” And as for changing, the reading suggests that we ourselves might be the ones who must “now change,” rather than those we love. The musical comedy might be very entertaining, but this biblical exhortation calls us to a kind of self-emptying that is close to heroism.
As we read the list of love’s characteristics, we realize just how countercultural it is. Our society does not encourage us to be patient, or even kind. In fact, it admonishes us to seek our own interests, to look out for Number One. It applauds pomposity and ego-inflation by making icons of movie stars, sports heroes and musical artists. We then approve of this by unthinkingly paying tribute at their altars.
If we stop for a moment and reflect, we might discover that the people we really admire the most are those who are indeed patient and kind, not jealous or pompous, not inflated or rude, not quick-tempered or brooding. They are people who genuinely love, people after whom we might want to model ourselves, people who have discovered the “more excellent way.”