Living the Gospel – September 6, 2020

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“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The story is told of a church that had recently been assigned a new pastor. On his first Sunday in the pulpit, the sanctuary was packed. Hopes ran high as the folks prepared to hear his first sermon. Naturally, they prayed that their new pastor would be a dynamic, gifted preacher. Well, they were not disappointed. His text was from Romans 13:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

The sermon was splendid. The new pastor proclaimed God’s Word with eloquence and grace. When it was over, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and exchanged glances of approval. The next Sunday, the people gathered in anticipation of another great sermon, but, to their dismay, he repeated the sermon from the week before.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

At first, the folks were stunned. “Didn’t we just hear this sermon last week?” they thought to themselves. Then they began to reason: “No”, it was certainly similar, but there must have been subtle differences from the week before. Ah, clever fellow! He used the same text, but altered the sermon ever so slightly so as to emphasize yet another point. Next time we’ll listen more carefully.

Sure enough, the third Sunday the people gathered as before and, unbelievably, the new pastor preached the exact same sermon from the previous two Sundays, word for word. This time there was no mistake – he was clearly repeating himself. Parishioners gathered hastily after church and asked for an explanation. “What is going on?” they asked. The new preacher replied, “Going on? What do you mean? Jesus was clear: ‘That you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ When you do this, then you will be ready for the next level and I’ll give you my next sermon.”

So, what is the next level and how does “Love your neighbor as yourself” relate to today’s gospel which calls us to treat an errant brother as a Gentile or tax collector? Well, after listening to a sermon from Bishop Robert Barron, I began to understand. You see the author of today’s gospel is Matthew the apostle who was a tax collector himself before he became a follower of Jesus. From Scripture we read: As Jesus walks on, he sees Matthew, who is also called Levi, sitting at the tax office. Jesus extends a wonderful invitation to him: “Be my follower.”(Matthew 9:9). And, Matthew gives up everything to follow Jesus. But Matthew also invited tax collectors and sinners to his home so that they could listen to Jesus and receive spiritual healing. Jesus wants to help them to attain a healthy relationship with God. Unlike the self-righteous Pharisees, Jesus does not despise such ones. He is moved with compassion and mercy; he can serve as a spiritual physician to all who are spiritually ill. Jesus shows mercy toward tax collectors and sinners, not to condone their sins, but to show tender feelings similar to those that he displayed toward the physically ill. Should we not cultivate the same merciful view and help those in need, especially by assisting them in a spiritual way? If we gossip about, condemn or shun an errant brother aren’t we driving them from conversion? Shouldn’t we instead pray for them and show them who Jesus is by the way we treat them and each other? Love is the basis of the Christian life and when we learn to love as Jesus loves, then, we will be ready to convert the heart of an errant brother.

Sylvia Bates