Only Love Fulfills the Law

Twenty-Third Sunday -A

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Like Jesus has done so many times, St. Paul addressing the Romans summarizes the Gospel demands into a single but far-reaching commandment of love.  On many occasions, keeping a specific law is far easier than exercising Christian charity.   

You shall not murder” is easier than “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  “You shall not commit adultery” is nothing compared to “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”  Christian charity is much more difficult and demanding to live by than the laws of justice.  When a person truly lives Christian charity, the laws of justice become a moot point because the justice of the law has been satisfied by Christian charity.

The Ten Commandments given to God’s people have one objective: they are a roadmap for a person to follow and, when obeyed, result in loving God, neighbor, and oneself. The first four commandments outline how a person should love God. There should be no other gods but the one true God. Neither should his holy name be taken in vain, and there is one day a week, the sabbath, in which God is adored and glorified more than the other six days.

Following the first four commandments about loving God, the next four commandments are about loving our neighbor. The familiar ‘thou shall not” commandments reside in this grouping.  Thou shall not disrespect your father and mother; do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; and do not speak false statements against your neighbor. These five commandments exist to protect the “goods” of others, and when a person does not trample upon the goods of others, that person loves his neighbor. Again, from St. Paul, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

The last commandment of not coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, or material goods is explicitly directed to the inner disposition of an individual. Its purpose is to love yourself enough to realize envy and jealousy affront your worth by ignoring the many gifts God has given you and lowering the dignity of one created in the image of God.

Once the commandments are somewhat mastered, Jesus tells us that Christian charity demands more than abstinence from committing evil against our neighbor. Christian charity also includes how we react when others sin against us.

In everyday experiences, Jesus gives an example of what Christian charity might look like, If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”  Between you and him alone.  You see, we are bound by charity even in conflict and confrontation.  Sure, Christian love demands fraternal correction, but not fraternal destruction.

During the conflicts we may have, often our first and immediate reaction is not directly to go to those who have offended us. Instead, it’s easier to complain to a third party, to express with disbelief, shock, and disgust what was said or done to us.  This does not always stop with a third party; it often continues to a fourth, fifth, or sixth party. The domino effect risks besmirching another’s reputation, which is hardly an example of Christian charity.

But take a more extended look at what happens.  The potential conflict, once between two people, perhaps even no more a misunderstanding than a misdeed, has now permeated into all kinds of homes and hearts.  How many reputations, friendships, and hearts have been destroyed or broken in the process?

The path of Christ and charity leads us to a different solution.  It demands that in our efforts of fraternal correction, we be as concerned about this person’s reputation and good name as we are about our own.  It requires that efforts at reconciliation be first made without the dire consequences, destruction, and tragedy of gossip.

If our first efforts do not work, we proceed cautiously and discreetly to include others in the conflict.  Finally, our last resort is to bring it to the larger community of faith.  But watch even this: “. . .if he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.”  How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?  Well, he went to their homes for dinner.  He showed compassion for the sick; He treated them with dignity and respect afforded those born in His Image.  Simply put, He lives out the love that Paul bespeaks.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.  The one who loves another has fulfilled the law, and more can confidently be assured he is living in Christ, who is the perfect fulfillment of the law.

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