Seeing God’s love in his commandments

Seeing God’s love in his commandments A Peruvian relief sculpture depicts Sts Peter and Paul. The Catholic Church commemorates the martyrdoms of both apostles with a June 29 feast. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran) (June 29, 2009)
Jem Sullivan

September 10

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 33:7-9
Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Rom 13:8-10
Mt 18:15-20

The bold witness to Christian faith expressed in the lives of many prophets and saints often resulted in their rejection, false accusations, and condemnation to death. Take Ss Peter and Paul, who were both martyred for their fearless proclamation of faith in the saving power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Or consider holy men and women down the ages – like Ss Thomas More, Maximilian Kolbe, Maria Goretti, Catherine of Siena and Josephine Bakhita, to name just a few – whose holiness and faith in Jesus Christ challenged powerful rulers, totalitarian ideologies and unjust systems. The lives of countless saintly men and women remind us of the truth and beauty of God’s word proclaimed this Sunday.

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel reminds the Israelites of their responsibility to serve as “watchmen for the house of Israel.” In this role they were not to sit in judgment over each other. Rather they were to express their love for God in love of neighbour, especially when someone strayed from God’s commands. For the commandments were not burdensome restrictions but trustworthy paths to discovering their dignity as children of a loving, creator God. When one person abandoned the ways of God, it was the responsibility of the community to lovingly point the way back. This service was offered in the order of love, not of superior dominance or harsh judgment. For God’s laws are not ends in themselves but privileged means to grow in love of God through love of neighbour.


Similarly, St Paul reminds the Christians of Rome, and us, that love is the fulfilment of the law when he sums up the commandments in one saying, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” for “love is the fulfilment of the law”. Paul challenges our approach to the commandments. Do we see them as restrictive obligations that “take the fun out of life”? Or do we welcome the commandments as paths to encounter God’s mercy and peace through love of neighbour?

Jesus presents his disciples with a transformative vision of Christian discipleship in the Gospel as he urges his disciples to exercise the loving (and often difficult) task of guiding those who abandon God’s ways and separate themselves from the community of faith. In return they are to expect rejection, false accusation, and even martyrdom. Yet their service is an act of love for God expressed in love of neighbour for, as Jesus reminds them, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.

For the courage to express our love of God in our love of neighbour we pray, “speak to me, Lord”.

Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.