So I was feeling pretty good this past week because I just had gotten my brand new “diamond preferred” Mastercard. [pull out and show the card] It is all black, pretty cool, looks rather clerical and all. I was contemplating what I would purchase with it, when I read the opening line of today’s second reading: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Hmmm. Then I was given this recent edition of “REFLECTIONS”, a newsletter from our Diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development, and on page 4 are listed “11 ideas for financial freedom & biblical simplicity.” And guess what #3 is? “NO CREDIT CARDS”.
Well, as much as I always pay attention to everything that comes from the Diocese, I haven’t cut up my credit cards quite yet. Because I am convinced that St. Paul is not talking about finances, not arguing against borrowing, but rather is concerned about community relationship, about what holds us together.
This statement, taken in a superficial and unreflective way, can seem rather amorphous, fuzzy, and easy: kind of romantically idealistic. “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” (sing) “All we need is love.” Do, ta doo, doo, do,
But we are saved from the Beatles by today’s Gospel, which spells out in very concrete and pragmatic terms what this rather general command “to love one another” implies.
The test case of love is not how we love each other when we are all getting along and feeling chummy, and really like each other, but rather how do we love one another in the midst of disagreement, conflict, opposition, and hurt? How do we love when we get on each other’s nerves and can’t stand each other? What does this command to love mean when my brother or my sister sins against me? ….
Well, the love we owe each other does NOT mean taking the obvious and easy way. You know what I mean: if someone hurts me, takes advantage of me, puts me down, sins against me, then I avoid that person, cut them off, ignore them, leave them to their own devices. Good riddance! Or I want to attack, to get even, to hurt them back, at least as much as they have hurt me, plus a little more just for good measure.
But of course this in NOT what love means. Jesus tells us that if your brother or sister sins against you, then out of the love you owe them, you have to do the really difficult thing, you have to go to the person and point out to him his fault. NOT as an accusation, but as a service, as an act of love. Hmmmm Anyone here find that a difficult thing to do?
It is much easier, I think, to ignore the fault, and with it the person. But that is an abdication of our responsibility for each other. We really are tied together in mutual care and concern for each other. We are that responsible for each other that we have to help each other grow. We cannot ignore each other simply because it is easier.
And we have to do it between us alone. So often when I have been hurt by someone I want to talk about it, but not with the person who did it, not with the person I should talk with about it, but with everyone else. “Do you know what that so-and-so did to me? Can you believe how terrible they are?”
That is called triangulation, making a triangle out of the incident, bringing in a third party. So, if the pastor or the associate or the school principal or the music director does something you don’t like, calling the Bishop is NOT the correct first response. That is triangulation.
The love that St. Paul urges us to, is not just some warm fuzzy feeling of tolerance and acceptance. That is NOT Christian love. Christian love is messy, involved, a struggle with, speak up and confront love. It is involvement. It is intimacy. It is taking responsibility for each other’s growth and development, because we love each other. That is work.
But it is real. It is love that genuinely wants the other to grow. It is the way Christ loves each of us. It is what we are called to.
That is what I owe you. Like the Prophet Ezekial in the first reading today, if I see something amiss, and fail to talk to you about it, I become responsible. You are not perfect, yet. But if I do my job, and love you as I should, I will take the risk to love you enough to call you to be more than you are, to correct your faults, to challenge you to be more holy, more loving, more Christian.
And you know what? You owe the same to me. With your loving help, I can grow. I can become a better pastor and priest, and more importantly, a more mature, loving, and holy person. I am relying on you to help me.
And you owe the same to your family, and your fellow parishioners as well.
Exciting, isn’t it?
And so I ask you, that as we work together to build up our St. Austin’s Parish community, and as we carry out our baptismal mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, and of being the healing and compassionate presence of Christ here and now, that we make a commitment to each other to love each other enough to do what Jesus says. No, what Jesus COMMANDS in today’s Gospel.
And that is, that we love each other enough to not tolerate each other, but risk becoming involved in each other’s growth and life.
When I do or say something that you find offensive or hurtful, or scandalous, then please love me enough to come and tell me about it. Talk to me. Let me know. I may react defensively at first, brush you off, get angry or attack back. That happens. But keep praying and eventually I will come around. And you will have done me a great service, and helped me to grow.
And likewise, when you individually, or you as a community, listen too much to the world and get a bit off the path to the Kingdom, I promise to screw up my courage and speak to you the truth, even if you are not eager to hear it. And I will keep praying for you.
That is a BIG responsibility we have for each other. But that is what genuine Christian community is all about. We owe nothing to each other, except, except, except to love one another as deeply as we can.
That’s better than diamond preferred. That’s genuine Good News. God bless!