When I-O-U Means “I Love You”

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Week XXIII-A, 10 September 2017
Ezekiel 33:7-9//Romans 13:8-10//Matthew 18:15-20

“Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”(Rom.13:8,10)

St. Paul is about to conclude his letter to the Romans, exhorting them – including us – to live in Christ Jesus. For St. Paul, there is no gap between being a citizen of a state and being a disciple of Christ when seen in the light of our faith in God. At the start of this chapter, St. Paul reminds us of our civic duties like paying taxes and respecting civil authority. Then he links this line of thought along with his call last Sunday “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”(Rom.12:1) by always doing everything in the name of love: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.”(Rom.13:8)

Of course, love can never be demanded or decreed like in the paying of debts and taxes. What St. Paul is telling us is to go beyond the letters of the commandments of God for there is more to obeying them and avoiding sins. Love is about persons, of Jesus Christ, of me, and of others. To love is to be like Jesus Christ who loves us 24/7. St. Paul’s call to love is neither an order nor a demand but an invitation from God who unceasingly loves us. In his second letter to the Corinthians where he eloquently spoke of love in chapter 13, St. Paul stressed that without love, even our heroic deeds and our very selves are nothing. Only love remains which we would all keep on doing even in eternity unlike the paying of taxes and debts we all leave behind after death. To get a clearer picture of St. Paul’s teachings on love for one another, let us now turn to our Sunday Gospel.

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.” (Mt.18: 15,19-20)

For the next three Sundays beginning today, our Gospel will focus on some teachings of Jesus about the true essence of the Church as His body of disciples. Today He is teaching us about love among disciples. Though Jesus did not speak in explicit terms, we can glean from today’s gospel that love is the essence of all of God’s commandments as it elevates us into higher levels of existence and relationships with Him and with others. As we have reflected from St. Paul’s exhortation in the second reading, the laws are not everything. Jesus is very particular with this:
He categorically tells us that the first step we must take when somebody sins is to talk to the sinner in private.
It is charity that moves us to correct anyone doing sinful or going wayward in life. It is never to shame or condemn them but “to win the sinner over” back to the fold. It is only in the spirit of love can sinners be won over back to the fold because when there is love, true dialogue and openness happen, leading into patient understanding to rectify whatever faults or misgivings that have led one into sin.

When people, especially young ones are mercilessly killed on mere suspicions or whims of those in authority, there is lack of charity and most especially of justice. There is no intention of winning over back to the fold the addicts and other criminals seen only as misfits who must be eliminated. In this kind of thinking, not only love is negated but also humanity as a whole. It is love which defines who we are; without love, then we are nothing! Likewise, love speaks well of our God whom we believe in; without love, then, we have become monsters or Antichrists! Where is the love? Even in our personal relationships, we have forgotten about love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, always insisting on the letters of the laws disregarding the human face crying for help, crying in pain. How lovely indeed is the call today by St. Paul to us all, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another”!!!

In the preceding 12th chapter of Romans, St. Paul narrates the concrete expressions of this love to one another which he aptly ends with “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”(Rom.12:21) It is like interpreting Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount”, relying solely on the love and mercy of God as we bear all pain and sufferings. And yes, a lot often, our love wears out for we are humans incapable of perfect love. Only God can love perfectly. What Jesus is telling us this Sunday is to never give up on others, especially on their misconduct and sinfulness. Only God can change hearts and convert sinners. And He needs us to make this possible by being “overseers” or “watchmen” of others like the prophets of the Old Testament. It is a “debt” indeed we all have to settle not with anyone but with God who has made us our brothers’ keepers: “if you do not speak to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.”(Ez.33:8-9)

Let me end this reflection with a beautiful thought on love by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from his first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”: “Love – caritas – will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable.”(#28) May God fill your hearts with love to share with others this week!

Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II,
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista,
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan