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Sunday Scripture: Love is the fulfilling of the law

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Sept. 4, 2011

By Sister Betty Jane Lillie, SC

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew18:15-20

   Our short reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans has a teaching on love of God that works out of the great commandment of the law. The theme also occurs in the Gospel tradition. It was a theme that was on the mind of many thinkers of Jesus’ day, as well as some before and after him: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).

In the Torah, the love of God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and the love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) are mentioned separately, but in Matthew 22:37-40, the two are joined and placed in the position of being the basis for the whole law and the prophets. Also, Mark joins the two, and says that no other commandment is greater than these (Mark 12:31). So much was the case in the Gospel tradition, that the first commandment could not be said to supersede the second. 

Paul’s emphasis to the Roman church was that love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans13:8-10). Love does no wrong to the neighbor. The interpersonal relationships within the Christian community were based on the Mosaic covenant that was so much the orientation of Paul’s religious mentality. That was at the root of what he described as putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:14). That responsibility involves the whole person. 

Our first reading this week takes up the prophetic theme of personal responsibility in working out the principles of a Christian life. Personal responsibility for doing good or evil replaced in time an earlier idea that guilt could be passed down in a family from one generation to the other. Jeremiah preached that everyone shall die for his own sin (Jeremiah 31:30), and Ezekiel takes up the subject and draws it out at length (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Then he continues with a wonderful word of the Lord. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from His way and live… None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right, he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33: 11; 16).

This wonderful shift in emphasis to the idea of personal responsibility in moral decision making is in the context of the theme of the prophet as watchman (Isaiah 21:6; Jeremiah 6:17). In our passage Ezekiel is explicitly told that he is a watchman for the house of Israel. He is a gift of God to the people both in his act of warning them of their errors and in his words of comfort and assurance that when they do turn to the Lord in righteousness they will live in the Lord (Ezekiel 33:7). 

If some of our readings this week seem very heavy, we can seek comfort in Psalm 96, which is the source of our psalm response. This beautiful hymn praises the kingship of the Lord and calls us to worship the Lord with joyous ceremony. Sing to the Lord a new song. Ascribe to Him glory and strength. The psalm calls us to rejoice in the coming of the Lord. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with His truth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name! (Psalm 96)

Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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