“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” — Romans 13:9-10
This weekend is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. The themes of the readings focus on love, forgiveness and reconciliation with God and others.
These are not attributes that come easily to me. I am heavily influenced by both my profession (corporate attorney) and culture (21st century U.S.) that is transaction based; there is an expectation that there is quid pro quo in almost every human interaction, not just in commerce but in inter-personal friendships also. This mentality has even seeped into religion with the “gospel of prosperity” message of “If I’m good and believe in God, I will be rewarded with health and wealth” that permeates many megachurches. This transactional attitude of an eye-for-an-eye was exactly what Jesus came to transform with his message of interior change that will result in a love of God and neighbor.
“The one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Scripture this week focuses upon our conduct towards those around us, especially in times when we have been harmed by their actions. Love does no evil. Ezekiel says that you are responsible for the wicked person’s death if you do not dissuade him from doing evil. Jesus tells us to speak to your brother about his fault privately so you can settle the affair, respect his honor, and restore the sacred fraternal relationship. Scripture keeps returning to the point that we are to revere others’ freedom and well-being and we are to lovingly help them make choices that will help them do what is right in society. Even the rudest stranger, we are to treat with kindness, because we have a responsibility to that person who is poorly coping with issues that keep them from pursuing their happiness. Love builds up, encourages, and creates possibilities.
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Everyone can appreciate the idealistic words and the harmonious sentiment of the readings, but no one gives you the tools to smoothly admonish your brother and sister in ways they can hear. When we try extra hard to be kind, we still cannot predict how somehow will respond to our gentle requests. To many, being kind means being soft; therefore they have the right to take advantage of someone who is weaker than I am. To this God responds, “Keep being kind. Keep smiling. Nothing is quite as powerful as true gentleness.”
The Gospel gives us a blueprint on the steps we need to take to resolve the dispute, but it does not tell us how to do it. The steps he mentions says that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of witnesses,’ but that is not enough because we have to begin with the assertions that, ‘No one will ever admit guilt or wrongness.’ Logic, facts, and argumentation never settle disputes. Only acknowledging the hurt we caused settles arguments. Even those found guilty of crimes by judge and jury profess their innocence.
The style of our approach dictates whether we will be successful. Love does no evil. Love does no harm. The law is fulfilled when we respond lovingly. I have to quickly think, “How can my words salvage this person’s honor? How can I not dismiss the person or say something that sounds as if I am judging?” We have to disarm the person and make them feel instantly comfortable. If I say, “I’m not sure I have the best words to convey this, but I’ll try,” then we at least set the person up to hear you. Never just jump in with statements that correct behaviors. Also, if someone’s words hurt us, tell them. Say, “Ouch.” Let the person know their words affect you greatly and you carry that hurt with you. Sane people do not want to hurt you. People really do not want to be the cause of unnecessary harm. One of our greatest gifts to develop is speaking from a loving place all day long – lovingly to ourselves, lovingly to strangers and neighbors, lovingly to adversaries. It often does not matter how they respond. What matters is that I continue to grow in love.
Love is powerful because it does no evil. Love does no harm, but it builds up and encourages. It creates new possibilities. Love fulfills the law because love is the basis of all law. The questions I ask myself each day are, “Am I growing in love? How can I grow more respectfully? Can the words I speak mirror the love I have in my heart for others?” I let God do the rest.”