Our Sunday readings this week take us deep into the communion of love that is the Church.
The reading from Romans states the theme: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. . . . Love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Paul is specific about the element of law: “The commandments, ‘you shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The Law is about love. The problem with adultery, murder, and all the rest is precisely that they are violations of love.
But why does God want us to love one another? What does “do not murder” have to do with “you shall have no other gods beside me”?
Our reading from Ezekiel begins to answer that question, by taking us into the strange and wonderful idea of mediation.
“You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me saying anything, you shall warn them for me.” This watchman “warns” when God speaks.
“If I tell the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out . . . .”
But this is strange. Why does Ezekiel need to speak out? God can speak to the wicked himself!
The question ends up being more about Ezekiel than about the wicked. “If you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt” – nothing is changing with the wicked – “but you shall save yourself.”
But if “you do not speak out . . . I will hold you responsible for his death.” This is about Ezekiel’s soul.
How Ezekiel relates to the people around him reflects his own relation to God. As the Psalm will say, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” That speaks not primarily to the wicked, but to Ezekiel: will he go where God sends him?
Will he go, even, to the most unpleasant parts of love, where we love others enough to call them back to love?
Our Gospel reading from Matthew skips a couple chapters from last week, from the end of chapter 16 to the middle of chapter 18. We skip over the scandalizing of children (Matt 18:1-14).
So we miss, “woe to that man by whom the offence comes! Therefore if your hand or your foot offend, cut them off!” We miss too “does he not leave the ninety nine, and go into the mountains and seek the one which is gone astray? . . . It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
But we skip to a section that nicely sums these up: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.” We are to pursue the lost sheep, as did Ezekiel. And we are to convict him of sin, so that he can love, and as part of our loving him.
But there is a darker side of this reading. “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven . . . .”
If we do bind him back to the love of the Church, or if he chooses not to be bound, he is loosed also from the love of heaven. What appalling power the Church has!
The phrasing ties in to our last two week’s readings: Jesus told Peter, “and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,” and now he says almost the same thing to all of us.
We find the jurisdiction of the hierarchical Church rooted in the more fundamental communion of love. In both cases, the point is that our love mediates God’s love. It is through us that others hear God’s voice, and see his shepherdly love.
Far deeper, it is through our expression of God’s love that we ourselves embrace God’s love for us. To choose to be outside love, outside the communion of the Church, is to choose to withdraw from this way God has chosen for us to hear his voice and experience his love.
Where could we better embrace the challenge of “binding” together in the communion of love?