SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 13:8-10
; Ps 112:1-2
; Lk 14:25-33
“Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.” We are all debtors in some ways. Some are in financial debt because of lavish spending and irresponsible management of money. Some incur debts because of the lack of planning, as in the man who sought to build a tower but could not complete it. Still others incur debts because they fail to strategize properly, as the king who had to deal with a larger army fighting against him. Such debts can be overcome if we are wiser and more disciplined, more humble in the way we live our life; and less ambitious and gung-ho in the way we take on projects.
But there is one debt which we can never pay back. It is the debt of mutual love. This is what St Paul is saying. Why is this debt never repayable? Firstly, this is because who we are today is the result of the intervention of many people in our lives. If we are successful today, we owe this success primarily to our parents, teachers, friends and colleagues who have helped us to do well in our studies and climb the ladder. We are also indebted to society, the government, the Church and all those who have helped to grow the country and the people. That explains why we must pay back as much as we can when we do well in life. We should not keep our wealth and our success just for ourselves.
If we do not return our dues to society, then others would be deprived of growth because likewise, those who are young or those who are learning to grow, will need our support, financial and moral support. By not helping others to better themselves, society would suffer from the lack of good leaders and skills to help the country to grow further. That is why, one of the saddest realities of society is brain-drain. This happens when those who have been trained and given the best education and skills migrate to other places for better economic opportunities, money and status, instead of remaining back to help the country to grow. Migration is not wrong, but it must be because we want to contribute to the growth and needs of the people rather than just for our own selfish interests. Paying back the debt of mutual love is to return to society what we have taken from them.
Secondly, we owe this debt to our fellowmen because we cannot love ourselves without loving our brothers and sisters. St Paul says, “If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself.” We are all interconnected and inter-dependent. The happiness and sadness of our brothers and sisters will affect us as well. So if we love ourselves, we must also love others. No man is an island. No man can exist on his own. We all need each other. Happiness is always a shared happiness. A narcissistic person is always a miserable, insecure, lonely and frustrated person.
This debt of mutual love is expressed in living a just life in relationship with our neighbors. The commandments given by Moses and quoted by St Paul tell us what are the things we should not do. It is based on the principle of the golden rule, “Do not do to others what you do not like them to do unto you!” This is the same justice that we expect others to conduct in their relationship with us. Just as we do not wish our neighbours to do us injustice, we must not do the same to them. If everyone observes this principle of loving others as much as we love ourselves, there will be peace and harmony in this world. The cause of suffering is often because there are some who are irresponsible in their work, in their responsibilities, or doing things that are harmful to others because of selfishness and indifference. How often have we practised double standards by causing others to suffer because of our selfishness and self-centeredness, but we cannot tolerate injustice and suffering done to us?
However, this debt of mutual love is more than just not harming our brothers and sisters. It is not just about not doing evil but doing good. Only when we do good, can we be happy in life because that is the only way we share in the love of God and His joy. We must therefore be proactive in love. St Paul wrote, “If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.” Like the psalmist, we must seek to help the poor and the needy. The psalmist describes who the happy man is. He is one “who fears the Lord, who takes delight in all his commands. He is a light in the darkness for the upright: he is generous, merciful and just. The good man takes pity and lends, he conducts his affairs with honour. Open-handed, he gives to the poor; his justice stands firm forever. His head will be raised in glory.” Indeed, one who reaches out to the poor and is generous will partake of the joy of giving and of seeing their fellowmen’s faces lighted up because of our selfless service and generosity.
But this debt of mutual love seems to be contradicted by Jesus in the gospel when He said, “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” In these words, Jesus is not only asking us to hate our loved ones but even ourselves! Furthermore, He added, “So in the same way, none of you can be my disciples unless he gives up all his possessions.” This call to love Jesus alone seems to be an unreasonable demand. On the contrary, this ironically becomes the key to truly love our neighbours.
Why does loving our neighbours require us to hate our loved ones and ourselves and give ourselves totally to the Lord? The truth is that although we claim to love our parents and our loved ones, yet the reality is that we love ourselves more than we love them. In other words, we love them more for ourselves than for their sakes. Parents love their children more for themselves than for the children’s sake. Otherwise, we would not have sought to possess them, control their lives and even determine what they should do to please us. Of course, we do love them but we love ourselves more. It is true for our spouse as well. We are protective of our spouse because we are afraid of losing them. And when they are unfaithful to us, we find it extremely difficult to forgive them even if they were repentant. This again shows that our love is possessive and we love them as much as we love ourselves.
So to truly love our neighbours require us to love Jesus more so that in giving our lives entirely to Jesus, we will be able to love them the way Jesus loves us, unconditionally and totally. When we put Jesus as the center of our lives and in our relationship with others, we begin to see them and love them the way Jesus loves us. We are loved for our sake and not for the sake of Jesus. Only when we give ourselves entirely to Jesus, can we too in the same way give ourselves, freed from love of self for others. Loving Jesus more does not mean loving our loved ones less; it means to be capable of loving them even more, but this time with a certain level of detachment, void of self-love. Loving Jesus and others more does not mean that we love ourselves less. It means that we are capable of a true love of self without being dependent on the love of others and their appreciation. It is a love that comes from our being and not dictated by external forces and personal gain.
This is the same reason why Jesus said, “none of you can be my disciples unless he gives up all his possessions.” Again if we are too attached to our possessions, we cannot give ourselves entirely to others. In being detached from our possessions, we begin to use them well for the good of ourselves and for the good of others. We do not hoard our possessions out of insecurity but we exercise proper stewardship knowing that all our possessions are meant for the good and service of others. Anyone who is too attached to his possessions will be limited in his capacity to love and give. Jesus gave Himself totally, including all His possessions for the service of all and so lived the fullness of life.