14 Pentecost, September 10
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Conversely, one who fulfills the law has fulfilled the demands of love. The law says, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet” (Rom. 13:9). Love is not merely what we do, and certainly not only what we feel. The most embracing love, extending to neighbors and strangers, is distinctly proscriptive. There are things to be left undone. Adultery, murder, theft, covetousness, and false witness are ruinous to human community. In a sense, love knows the Hippocratic Oath in its condensed form: Do no harm. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
Suppose, then, a violation of these proscriptions. What is a community to do? Is there some form of discipline? “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone”; “take two or three others along with you”; and “if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17). These words are tempered by demonstrations of Jesus’ compassion toward Gentiles and tax collectors, and by the goal to gain a hearing from the offending brother or sister. “If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (Matt. 18:15). Rather like a chapter meeting in a monastic community, faults may be named, but only with the intention of reconciliation and strengthening the bonds of love in Christ that hold the community together. This is a bracing love, true, deep, and difficult. Without the presence and grace of Christ, it will not be.
Remarkably, this is introductory work. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another. … Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:8, 10). If a member sins against you, seek to regain that one. Cherish and protect the bonds of love and peace in Christ’s holy Church. But there is more.
“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Rom. 13:11). The day of salvation is nearer than when we first believed, the night far spent, the day at hand. Initial conversion is the beginning of a great crisis, a moment when the future breaks open and floods the present. Christ would be our vestment, our armor, our light. He seeks our total transformation in grace. “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:12-14). The party is over, at least in one sense.
“Did you know,” my wife asked, having picked up some trivia from the news, “that we live in the drunkest city in the United States?” The evidence is verifiable and the human cost horrible. Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness. The joy that makes us complete is Christ Jesus and his risen presence. He is the bread and wine of a parish block party, and all we need for a joy that is full.
Look It Up
Read Romans 13:11.
Think About It
Most of the time we are asleep. Yet Christ has risen!