A smartly dressed young boy sees a young beautiful girl walking down the street. He instantly gets excited and enchanted by her beauty and stops her on her track for a chat. “Mmhhh…” the chat ended with radiant smiles and plans to meet again. The next day, the boy appears with a rose flower and instantly professes Love to the girl while recalling how he could not sleep the previous night. Like magic, the girl receives the flower blushingly and with beaming smiles. “I love you!” The boy declares in the manner of a public announcement. “I love you too!” The girl returns immediately. Instantly an unwritten love agreement is signed. Two months after there is a break up and the boys declares that he does not love her again. “Was it love in the first place?”
“I love you!” “You are the love of my life!” “My love is entirely yours!” “With love from me!” “My endless love!” These are few of the innumerable flowery expressions that are used to describe some feelings most people erroneously define as love. There is basically no common decision globally on what love is all about since the inception of critical thinking. In short love has eluded a universal definition.
The major reason why love as a phenomenon seems to be hard to define is that it is another name for God and God Himself is not an easy phenomenon to define. St. John (1 John.4:8) tells us that “whoever does not love does not know God for God is love”. No wonder then St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:7) said that love conquers all things; this means that everything is subject to love which is God. Hence the full understanding of love resides in God.
Today we begin our reflection with the Second Reading (Romans 13:8-10). Here St. Paul made a point that is very challenging. He pointed out that we should owe no one nothing except love. He went on to explain that all the other commandments draw their strength from love. Hence, to love is a greater commandment that must be adhered to strictly as he (or she) who loves is fulfilling the law.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt.18:15-20), our Lord Jesus Christ took St. Paul’s approach to a dramatic point in his typical way. He began by saying that if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he does not listen take one or two others along as witnesses. If he does not listen to them, report to the Church, if he refuses not listen to the Church, treat him as a Gentile or tax collector.
Let us understand this first segment of the gospel very well. In the first place, it is the offended that is asked in the passage to start the process of reconciliation: “if your brother sins against you go and tell him”. This is typical of our Lord Jesus Christ; with him there is always a reversal of the situation; we remember the turning of the other cheek to the one that slaps you on one (Matt.5:39). In our day-to-day life, it is usually the offender or sinner that it asked to go and sue for peace. But here, he is telling us that it is the prerogative of the innocent person to sue for peace. This is the route of love. As St. Paul pointed out, “love does not insist on its own way…it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (1 Cor.13:5-7).
We see in this narrative, four significant and important steps to be taken in the process of reconciliation animated by love:
- Private consultation between the offended and the offender: Often we jump this very important step. There is need for dialogue between two conflictual individuals; just the two alone without a third person.
- Inclusion of two or more persons: This step becomes important when the first step fails to produce the appropriate result. It is important that those to be involved should be persons who will not take sides or aggravate the situation.
- Involvement of the Church community: The Church community should be able to mediate when both the first and second steps fail. The Church’s role here is not to judge but to save. That is why the Church is seen as instrument of God’s salvation in the world.
- Treatment of the offender as Gentile or tax collector. This is the final step that should be taken when all the other steps had been exhausted. Our Lord asked the offended here to treat the offender as a Gentile (pagan) or tax collector. The question is how can we treat a Gentile or tax collector? Or better still how our Lord Jesus Christ treated them.
The appropriate answer is that our Lord treated them with more love. In the Gospel of John (4:7-42) our Lord showed a special redemptive love to the Samaritan who is considered not only a Gentile but also a notorious sinner. While partying with Matthew the tax collector, our Lord responded to his critics saying that “he did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Hence, when our Lord said treat him as a tax collector, he meant that we should not give up on those who offended us. We should give them more love and affection.
This is instructive because God never gave up on us. After the fall of our first parents, God went ahead to design a process of our reconciliation with him which culminated in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, our Lord added some promises to those who would listen to his voice and not harden their hearts as the psalmist declared today. There are promises for those who would take as a task today, the project of dispensing love; the debt we owe our neighbours, by building bridges of reconciliation. To these our promised that their prayers will be effective. Whatever they bind shall be considered bound and whatever they lose shall be considered loosed and when they gather to pray together our Lord Jesus will not only be in their midst, he will also answer them.
As we march into the new week, let of be aware of the fact that we are debtors of love. It is fundamentally important that we keep paying this debt just as our Lord Jesus Christ made the ultimate complete payment for us on the cross when he said it is finished (John 19:30).