Readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings this week are all about love.
Now, I can hear some of you thinking now. Uh, Liesl, did you read the first reading from Ezekiel? That doesn't sound so loving to me...
Before you get your breeches in a twist, I'm not talking about the sappy kind of love that pervades our culture today. I'm talking about real love, as in the "let us love one another, because love is of God" and "God is love" (1 John 4:7,16) kind of love.
It all comes down to how we define love, which we read more about in St. Paul's letter to the Romans. Many non-Catholics (and unfortunately, even some Catholics!) would cite this passage as evidence that we no longer have to follow the ten commandments given to Moses by God, in the saying that we "owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8) Adultery? Coveting? It's okay if I do these things as long as I do them because of love.
Yet, what does Paul mean when he says to love one another? By whose standards should we love? My standards? Your standards? The standards followed by the president of the United States? No, we are commanded to love by God's standard. This means loving the entire person, where "love does no evil to the neighbor." (Romans 13:10)
Doing no evil to your neighbor means loving as God loves. It means following the commandments. Even more, it means trying your very best to do as the prophet Ezekiel teaches. How is this rather harsh sounding warning really talking about love? We as Catholics, and all Christians, have a challenge before us. This challenge is to distinguish between loving the person and loving sinful nature. I think many Catholic bloggers, especially in the past couple of weeks, would agree that loving a person is to teach them what it means to love as God loves. Unfortunately, sometimes this means being called "intolerant", a "bigot", and many other unmentionable names. This makes the challenge presented to us even more difficult, but as much as we hate to do it sometimes, we still have an obligation to warn those of the danger of sin, and offer the alternative of God's loving commandments. As Ezekiel says, "[If] you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death." (Ezekiel 33:8)
Let me point that out again, if the boldface wasn't enough. "I will hold you responsible for his death." It is not enough to just live a good life for ourselves, we have to do all within our power to live a good life loving others as well.
This is not to say that we should go out on a vendetta against the world, calling out every sin we see in a hateful manner. We have to remember that we are in fact included among those sinners as well. We have to be sure to remove the logs and dust from our own eyes (Matthew 7:5) while also spreading God's love through teaching the Truth. This is one of the ways in which we can love our neighbor, to "warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way" (Ezekiel 33:9), because not only shall we save ourselves, but we might help to save another soul in the process.
The verse with the Alleluia this week ties the first two readings and the Gospel into this theme of what it means to love: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." To love another is to spread the message of reconciliation, the message of Christ.
Where is this message to be found today? Where was it found yesterday? A week ago? A year ago? 2000 years ago? This message of love has always been and will always be found in the Church, the same Church that Jesus talks about with his disciples in Matthew 18. This church is the place to bring your sins and the sins of your brothers, to be held accountable for each other's faults, but to also seek reconciliation, forgiveness, and a renewal of God's love.
This message spoken of in the gospel sounds more loving, but it is the same message as the one spoken of by Ezekiel, and it is the same kind of love that Paul means when he says to love your neighbor. As the preface to the Mass in the Magnificat states, "Our love must extend to those attitudes and actions that would prevent our neighbors from truly loving themselves and their own destiny." As difficult as it may be sometimes to present this message and Christian teachings with love, we must persevere, because to love your neighbor in this way is to share God, who is Love, with each person we meet.