The debt that is never paid off

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The Lord Is My Chef sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 10 September 2023
Ezekiel 33:7-9 ><))))*> Romans 13:8-10 ><))))*> Matthew 18:15-20
Photo by author, St. Scholastica Convent, Baguio City, 23 August 2023.

Our gospel this Sunday is very difficult but also one of the simplest and fundamental teachings by Jesus Christ: fraternal correction for more harmonious relationships.

That is very difficult because we have all experienced how when we heard of somebody going wayward in life, of living in a life of sin, our immediate reaction is to talk about them, engage in gossips without any intentions at all to correct them. Sad to say, we even distance ourselves from them – exactly the opposite of what Jesus is teaching us today:

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two other along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

Matthew 18:15-17

Photo by author, St. Scholastica Convent, Baguio City, 23 August 2023.

Jesus is now heading to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission. Along the way, he taught his disciples important lessons about the Church he had just “established” upon Peter, the Rock, while at Caesarea Philippi three weeks ago.

In these next three Sundays, Jesus tackles three delicate issues we continue to face even in our modern time like fraternal correction, forgiving, and work. These are delicate topics because they are all expressions of mutual love for one another.

Very often, we commit the sin of omission in the realms of these three, particularly of fraternal correction as we tend to detach ourselves from others especially if they are committing sin. By distancing from them, we unconsciously allow them to sin. In the movie The Good Nurse based on that true story of a nurse in the US who killed so many patients for some years by transferring to different hospitals, the good nurse asked him why he did it? The serial killer nurse said, “nobody told me to stop doing it.”

The dark side of the sin of omission lies in that tendency within us to not care at all especially with those who prefer to separate from us and lead their lives in the way they wanted. There is that tendency within us to be like Cain even if we are not guilty of any sin or may even be the offended party, saying, “am I my brother’s keeper?” Most sad are our Filipino expressions when somebody sins, “Bahal ka na sa buhay mo…pinili mo iyan, pagdusahan mo.”

Photo by author, Camp John Hay, 12 July 2023.

Fraternal correction is the antidote to sins of omission because it is about keeping our relationships intact as family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus becomes truly present in the world among us when we live in harmony because “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).

As early as the Old Testament, God had already insisted on this moral precept as his children that we look after one another like a guard or sentinel in the positive sense as he told the Prophet Ezekiel in the first reading. At that time, the enemies of Judah were closely approaching their borders that they designated watchmen as their first line of defense. Failure by these watchmen to warn the people – as it turned out later – could spell disaster for the kingdom.

The same thing is true with us. We are all interrelated with each other. One rotten tomato can spoil the whole batch. We cannot choose to be indifferent or just be mere bystanders amid the evil and sins happening around us perpetrated by those closest to us. But we must do it all in the spirit of love, not because we are better or holier.

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 22 March 2023.

Fraternal correction is an expression of our mutual love for one another, the exact opposite of sin of omission. St. Paul offers us a lot today about this love that builds our family and community still from his letter to the Romans.

Let us start with St. Paul’s conclusion that love is the fulfillment of the law which we often hear and even proclaim to others. Main question that arises from this is the nature of this love. For St. Paul, love is the self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed us when he offered himself for us on the cross. Recall last Sunday St. Paul reminded us to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) like Jesus. In that same chapter, St. Paul spoke about not retaliating or seeking vengeance, an echoing of the Lord’s instruction on love when asked by a scholar of the law which is the greatest of the commandments (Mt.22:37-40).

Here we find, love for St. Paul is the imitation of Jesus Christ, a love that can never be measured at all and even be demanded and decreed! The love of Jesus Christ is so new as he mentioned at his last supper (Jn. 13:34) because it is a love rooted in God, a love that elevates us or as young people say “levels up” every disciple into the mystical plane.

Prior to his telling us today “to owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another”, St. Paul was expounding at the beginning of Romans 13 the theme of obedience to authority, a sort of social responsibilities, of things like justice (vv.1-7). While justice demands we pay off our debts and other dues to one another, to the state and public officials, it is a totally different scenario when it comes to love.

Photo by author, St. Scholastica Convent, Baguio City, 23 August 2023.

Love is not a possession that anyone can receive or give in an exactly measured quantity. St. Mother Teresa said that the measure of love is when you love immeasurably. There is no such thing as a kilo of love. It is either you love or do not love! And when that happens, when we do not love, then we sin. That sin can only be repaired and corrected by love. Sin is when we lack love; to overcome sin, pour in more love.

In all his writings, St. Paul always had love as the basis of his teachings so that without sounding as imposing, he could persuade us to live deeply moral lives as expression of that love in Christ which he eloquently expressed in his ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13. One of the earliest Latin phrases I have learned as a child was from my elementary school days at St. Paul College Bocaue (Bulacan). Our school motto is “Caritas Christi urget nos” – The love of Christ impels us (to love more) – from 2 Corinthians 5:14.

When we examine our true love experiences that are not selfish but other centered, we realize that love is a debt we can never pay off because love is a gift from God. This gift of his love makes us those who receive it in a filial, loving relationship with him our Father. Most of all, we realize we too can love like Jesus Christ!

God does not “order” nor “command” us in the strict sense to love him. He asks for our love because he loves us, because he is love. When we love, we fulfill the commandments of God. We live in peace and harmony with one another like in heaven. That is why it is only love that will remain in heaven where there will be no more fraternal corrections. Most of all, never be paid off as a debt because love is all that shall remain to become our very person in Christ. Amen. It is a Sunday. If you love, celebrate Mass in your parish. Have a blessed, loving week!

Photo by author, La Trinidad, Benguet, 12 July 2023.