HOW TO PAY THE LOVE DEBT

HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)

                                        Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Love is an indispensable subject matter with global relevance. It is difficult not to talk about love even when it hurts by recalling some personal experiences. A 2017 article in havingtime.com, by the blogger Gigi Solo, quotes some research findings that show that 60% of the people in the world, that is, 4.4 billion people feel unloved. This population surprisingly includes people in active relationships and marriages. We can see from the research that most people love-starved.

There are so many talks and claims about love by many people in the world today, but a few individuals understand and try to practice real love. Love is beyond what one says; it is more about what you do selflessly.

In the Second Reading today (Romans 13:8-10), St. Paul gives us a timeless instruction that could give us a rude awakening: “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Any attentive mind would see and appreciate the profundity of the words of St. Paul in the passage.

The central point in the instruction is that love is a debt we all must pay; in fact, we become debtors when we fail to love. You could recall that a Pharisee with a legal background once approached Jesus to ask, which is the greatest of all the commandment (Matt. 22:34-40). Answering our Lord summarized the entire law and prophets with the love of God and neighbor.

Furthermore, before the passion and death on the cross, Jesus gave a new commandment to his disciples, which says, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (Joh 13:34).

Paying the Love Debt

If love is a debt we must pay as St. Paul rightly puts it, how do we make the payment, and with what? We generally pay most debts with money, but with regards to love, money cannot completely suffice. The question on how we can pay the debt of love can be put in another way, “how do we love?”

The Gospel Reading today (Matt. 18:15-20) gives us an immensely helpful platform to know how we can pay the debt of love. In the narrative, our Lord highlights what we need to do when someone offends us. Jesus presents four successive steps:

  • Sort it out privately.
  • Invite a third party (two or three persons).
  • Involve the church community.
  • Treat the person as a Gentile or a tax collector.

 We shall examine how we can pay the debt from these steps.

Pay with patience

Patience is a transforming virtue that helps us to endure and wait for the desired outcome. True love cannot be possible without patience. Patience assists us in bearing the hurtful words and actions of others the same way God restrains His anger against us for the sake of His name (Isaiah 48:9).

In life, if you fail to have patience, you may have pains. We pay the debt of love with patience by our endurance in our efforts to reconcile with estranged persons. St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:7) that love is patient and kind.  It would take patience to go back and forth to negotiate for reconciliation following the four steps our Lord suggested to us in the Gospel.

Pay with Sacrifice

The best definition of love is the one that relates it to sacrifice; “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Love becomes sacrificial when one is ready to go the extra mile for the benefit of another. Love becomes sacrificial when it is selfless because true love does not insist on its way (1 Cor. 13:5). In life, when we fail to make sacrifices, we may not be satisfied

Pay as to a “Gentile or Tax Collector”

On the face value, treating someone as a Gentile or tax collector might be confusing as many people could misunderstand what our Lord meant. The question we need to ask is, “how did Jesus treat the Gentiles and tax collectors in the course of his earthly ministry?

During the dedication of infant Jesus in the temple, the priest, Simeone, said among other things said that Jesus would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory of the people of Israel (Luke 2:32). Furthermore, Jesus had a transforming encounter with all the Gentiles that encountered him in the Gospels. We could name some of them, the Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13), the Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15:21-28), the woman at the well (John 4: 4-26), the only grateful leper among ten of them (Luke 17:11-19).

Concerning tax collectors, remember that Jesus called one of them to become an apostle, namely, Matthew (9:9-13). Furthermore, he sought out Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, and brought salvation to his house (Luke 19:1-10). Finally, Jesus told the religious bigots of the time that tax collectors and prostitutes would make heaven before them (Matt. 21:31).

Summarily, Jesus gave the Gentiles and tax collectors special attention at every step in his ministry, and every one of them who had an encounter with Jesus experienced profound revitalization. So treating anyone who proves hard to reconcile as a Gentile or tax collector involves giving the person more love and going the extra mile. Remember that love never dies because God is love (1 John 4:8).

Moving Forward to the Next Pandemic!  

I am praying ardently for another pandemic of significant proportions, a special kind of virus. It would not affect the lungs and other respiratory routes. It would not kill anyone, and it would not isolate us from each other. I am talking about a love pandemic!

The love pandemic would affect our hearts, minds, and souls. It would also insulate and bring us together. Our facemask would be divine and would cover us from hatred, bickering, fighting, and hostility. We shall sanitize our hands with forgiveness and reconciliation.

 Let this love pandemic begin now, as we start to pay our debts of love to each other. Let us begin today. Check well, and there must be someone out there who would need your conciliation and love. You may be hurting because of an experience in the past. I want to tell you that you can love again. Remember that love goes the extra mile, and it never ends.

Say it, mean it, and do it, “I love you!” God bless you, and have a blissful weekend and a beautiful week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.

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