Wednesday of Week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 13:8-10

Paul continues his practical advice to the Romans.  The reading may be very short, but its message should be engraved deeply on the heart of every person – both Christians and non-Christians alike.  What is striking in this passage is that God or Jesus is not mentioned at all, but both are clearly understood to underlie the statements.

Paul says that the only debt we should incur with others is the debt of love, because, in loving another person we are fulfilling all the requirements of the law.

The love owed to others is the one debt that can never be paid off.  No matter how much we have loved, we are still under an obligation to keep on loving.  And this love is not only extended to fellow Christians, but must include every other person, including those who wish us harm.  And, in doing so, we are not only fulfilling the requirements of the Mosaic Law, but of all law.  And, if to uphold a particular law, I would violate the law of love, that law cannot be obeyed.

So, says Paul:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the original quotation from Leviticus, ‘neighbour’ meant a fellow-Israelite, but here it is extended to include every other human person, as we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus actually pushed that commandment even further.  At the Last Supper he gave his disciples what he called a ‘new commandment’ when he said:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

Here the level of love is extended to match the love of Jesus which led him to “empty himself” and sacrifice his life for every single one of us.

The commandment also presumes that we love ourselves.  Probably, most of us feel that we do, and even feel guilty about being selfish and self-centred.  But that is not real self-love.  Real self-love means the total recognition and acknowledgement of ourselves as we are, including both strengths and weaknesses.  Most of us try to hide our real selves by hiding behind masks and creating an image that will impress others.  That is not a sign of real love of self.  But without a healthy self-love, there is a lack of inner security making it difficult to reach out in love to others.

Paul says that that “love is the fulfilling of the law” because genuine loving can cause no harm to brothers and sisters.  Keeping the law in a legalistic fashion can do a lot of harm.  This is what Jesus had against the Pharisees – they put law before love.

Paul’s teaching reminds one of St Augustine’s famous dictum: “Love and do what you like” or St Paul’s own saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins”.  If one’s actions are motivated by a genuine love and concern for the well-being of others we cannot go wrong.  A truly loving person is not going to commit adultery, is not going to kill or hurt, is not going to steal, or to cast covetous glances at what belongs to another.

The word for ‘love’ used by Paul is agape – a special kind of love.  It can be described as ‘a passionate desire for the well-being of the other’.  It is a unilateral love in the sense that it is given and continues to be given even when there is no response, or even if it is rejected.  It is the love that God extends to all created things and God’s agape is the source of all love in us.  And wherever there is agape, there is God, because God is agape.  That is why Paul can say that all the requirements of our faith are fulfilled, if all our words and actions are motivated by that agape.

Even in our church life, people can become very legalistic and set a lot of store by laws and regulations with very little love being shown.  Many put the Ten Commandments ahead of the law of love.  Yet, as Jesus showed with the Pharisees, it is possible to keep the law without a shred of love.  One can keep many of the commandments – especially those expressed negatively – by doing absolutely nothing!

But it is only through the love which we show for all those around us that the quality of our Christian life is measured.  It is only by that love that our union with God is manifested.  Observing laws, however exalted, is not enough.  And doing nothing is of no help either. Love involves a constant and unconditional reaching out to all, friends and enemies, young and old, Christian and non-Christian, educated and illiterate, fellow country people and foreigners, close relatives and perfect strangers.

And, as has been said, it is striking that God or Jesus are not mentioned in the whole passage.  But the message is clear: I cannot love God and bypass my brothers and sisters, including those most obnoxious.  It is no use spending hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament if I am not also constantly reaching out to find and serve Jesus in those around me.  It is not difficult to talk to Jesus in the tabernacle.  It can be much more difficult with some – an unreasonable boss or a rebellious teenage son or an aggressive drug addict. Finding Christ there and responding to him in such situations is the real test.  At the same time, we thank God for the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as it is a wonderful environment for prayer and contemplation, and to reflect on the degree of loving others in our daily lives.

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