“Owe Nothing to Anyone” | Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 10 September 2017
Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20

I suppose both of us
-all of you and me-
are at a disadvantage when it’s my turn to preach.

You’re at a disadvantage because
what I might possess in stunning youthful eloquence
I sorely lack in actual life experience
that might be of some benefit to your real life.

I’m at a disadvantage because every time I sit down to write one of these,
and then when I get up in front of all of you,
I am reminded that what I might possess in stunning youthful eloquence
I sorely lack in wisdom and the experience of age and grace that
*some* of our other preachers might be able to offer.

All of those personal experiences that you draw on
-implicitly or explicitly-
when making decisions or giving advice to your children and grandchildren
are either just happening to me or are still a long way off.
Furthermore, a lot of what weighs heavily on you
will never be a factor in my life:
mortgages, dating, crying babies at 2am, being laid off, paying for school, or
watching my children make idiotic decisions.

But here I am.
And, for me, it is fun to preach to you.
Not because I know everything,
but because I don’t know anything
which means this pulpit becomes, for both of us,
a learning experience.

What I lack in knowledge, I make up for in imperfect faith.
And passing on the faith that I have received
from my parents and teachers, who received it from their parents and teachers,
and so on over the course of two-thousand years,
is a work of love.

And I do it because I love you.

I hate to toot God’s horn in terms of the work he’s done in me,
but can you imagine the work it took him to convince a
scrawny, religiously indifferent, kleptomaniac
to reconsider all his hopes and dreams
and become, precisely for the sake of your salvation,
a priest?

A lot of work.
And he did it because he loves me
and all of you.

The Lord takes his own advice,
given to us today from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans:
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.”

God does not owe me my salvation,
he doesn’t owe me my vocation as a priest,
and he doesn’t owe me happiness.

The only thing he owes us,
by virtue of his own law, and of his own identity,
is love.

What is love?

Perhaps that question evokes the worst of memories
from days in Philosophy 101,
but from the earliest development of recorded human thought,
from Plato and Aristotle until today,
that question remains one of the most puzzling questions.

What is love?

Is it a feeling?
Is it an emotion?
Is it a physical reaction?

The tradition of the Church has largely adopted
the definition given by St. Thomas Aquinas,
that to love
is to will the good of the other.

It is to say,
I love you for you;
not for who you aren’t, or who I’d like you to be,
but for you.
That in you, despite all of your weaknesses and shortcomings,
is a limitless well of goodness, meaning, and purpose.

So the love between husband and wife
isn’t based on the beauty that each had when they met in college.
Certainly, that beauty will fade.

It isn’t based on a happy feeling, because feelings are fleeting.

Maybe first attraction was kindled by beauty or fuzzy feelings,
but love is built on something much deeper and much more meaningful:
the choice of the lovers.

Above all, love is free.
And if love is free, then it is not forced.
If it is not forced, then it is chosen.
If love is chosen, then it is free.
if love is free, then it is true.

And we’re all after true love.
Because at the heart of every authentic community,
whether it is a family at home, or the parish family,
or the Bunco ladies,
or the Saturday morning golf group at Mistwood,
at the heart of every authentic community
is love between its members.

Not a romantic love, necessarily.
Not a physically affectionate love, necessarily.
But a love that says to the other,
“You are welcome here. You are enough.
You are acknowledged. You are more than tolerated.
And your goodness is overflowing.”

In such a context we cannot help but be at home,
and we cannot help but be vulnerable.
When we can live and move in this context of love,
a context, Paul says, which “is the fulfillment of the law”,
we are particularly careful to maintain the integrity and unity
that such a context makes possible.

It is easier to live in a loving place than in a hostile one.

In the Gospel today, Jesus reiterates the importance of
being straightforward with each other as Christian disciples,
with affirming the good but also reaching out in love to correct the not-so-good.

The radical living of the Christian disciple
necessitates that there be a change
in the entire network of relationships surrounding him or her,
for better or for worse.

Christ is not some novel idea, or a new strategy for healthy living;
Christ is a real person who is alive and in our midst,
asking nothing less of us than to give him our entire lives,
that they might be transformed from the old self of sin
into the new self of light and of righteousness.

This requires a change in the way we live our lives,
which means there will be a change in the way
we relate with others and the way that others relate with us.

This means that some people won’t like us,
or will stop talking to us,
or make fun of us and our way of life at family parties.

You don’t owe them anything, anyway.
Except love.

And how do we love difficult people?
Again, I’m 25. I have no idea.

But, if I may:
our ability to love is tested precisely
in the moments when we are called to love difficult people.
Maybe we aren’t choosing to love them for them,
maybe we’re choosing to love them because of our belief
that, somehow, God even loves this person.

We choose to love difficult people because we see every day
the results of so many people who choose hate.
The unity and peace brought about by authentic Christian community and witness
must become more important than any petty differences we have with others.
And in the face of eternity, most differences are petty.

You must provide the love that does not exist in this community.
“Peace and unity are assumed by Jesus to be the natural state of things
in the community gathered in memory of Him and in His name.
When the peace is disturbed
the one intolerable attitude is indifference,
since those who bear the name of Christ must seek
reconciliation among themselves at all costs.” (Merikakis)

Let today be a day of reconciliation.
Reconcile yourselves with God, first of all,
and then with your neighbors and friends.
Be prepared to make the tough choices
that sometimes must be made in the course of human relationships.
If you have problem,
try to work it out.
If that doesn’t work,
try again with the help of others.
If that doesn’t work,
“treat them as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”
and let them go.

But be content in knowing
that reconciliation is a work of Christ,
and in the pain of that broken relationship,
you, filled with goodwill, were attempting to do the work of Christ.

When we choose to do the work of Christ,
we are choosing to love.
And when love is chosen, then it is free.
When love is free, then it is true.

“Owe nothing to anyone,
except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

 

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