08 November. Wednesday, Week 31
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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, "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
Owe no one anything except to love one another (Romans 13:8). The context for this remarkable teaching is Paul’s reflection on the Christian’s civic and social responsibilities. In the preceding verses he has listed our duties to the state – paying taxes, paying customs, showing respect towards constituted authority. But now Paul goes deeper, toward the core of morality.
The phrase “Owe no one anything” can hardly mean that we should never undertake ordinary, commercial debt, such as in the purchase of food, clothing, land, a vehicle or a house, with a view to repayment some time in the future. Paul was familiar with the normal provisions for buying and selling, and for payments to be made. And he wants his Christians to be honest in their dealings, good citizens who respect the law of the land. Paul cannot be forbidding them to engage in commerce, or they could never buy anything.
After saying “owe no one anything” Paul throws in this moral caveat, except to love one another. This “debt” of love is a debt which can never be fully paid. Unlike other debts which should be paid off as they become due, the debt of love in on-going and will never end. It will continue as long as life exists. As “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and because God’s children will live eternally (John 3:16) the debt of love shall never end. Throughout our whole adult life, the debt of love sould be gladly paid. For “whoever loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Clearly, the words about hating one's father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, cannot be taken literally. Much better known is Our Lord's calling on people to love their enemies, and to pray for those who treat them badly, ideals that he embodies in his own life. He healed the ear of the enemy who had come out to arrest him; he prayed asking God's forgiveness for those who were crucified him.
But today's Gospel holds one core insight. Jesus insists that those who want to follow him must love him even more than those for whom they have the deepest natural affection. As God's representative, God's Mediator with us, only Jesus is to be loved in the way that God is to be loved, with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Nothing less will do for the Son of God who saves us. If we want to be his disciple, we can't be half-hearted about it. Our following of Jesus is not a casual affair; it needs to be carefully considered, just as someone who decides to build a tower or to go to war needs to thoroughly think it through in advance.