The debt of mutual love
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
It is good to be with you this weekend. I arrived on Friday morning. I visited the two schools, St Joseph’s at Queenstown and St Joseph’s at Rosebery. It was a wonderful time to be with the students and staff and speak with them and answer many interesting questions. The schools are very inspiring places and much good work in being done, not only for the students but also for their families. We can be very proud of our schools and the great work that they are doing.
The West Coast continues to battle with many challenges. Its future is very much tied to the mining industry which originally saw the development of this area in the 1880s. The three mines in the Rosebery area engage some 800 workers and contractors. There is some hope that new ownership of the Mount Lyall mine may see it return to production.
These days the families of many miners live on the coast where there are the additional facilities that families need. So miners work seven day shifts and have seven days off. They can drive in and drive out. This is an understandable approach but it limits the possibilities for local communities to grow and flourish. It also puts extra strain on family life when the father is absent for a week. However, this is the reality these days. We accept that this is how things are.
The hopes for a tourism-led economic stimulus has been severely affected by the COVID-19 virus. However, there are some initiatives being developed like the mountain bike tracks that are being built. We hope that the tourists will be able to visit once again and provide a much needed cash injection into the local economy.
When we battle through difficult times we are more acutely aware of our need for one another. It is true as the English poet John Donne said that “no man is an island, entire of itself”. We humans are social beings. We have a profound interconnectedness. The family is central to our human growth. We live in and depend upon communities in which we live. This is more evident in smaller communities than large cities. As human beings we long for human interaction.
The need for community has been highlighted when we were forced into isolation. Right now we are very aware of the great difficulties being encountered by Victorians. Many have expressed concern about the dangers to mental health of those forced into isolation for weeks on end. It is simply not healthy. It is not human. Very simply, we need each other.
St Paul makes a very interesting comment in the second reading today. He says, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.” We understand the importance of not amassing a debt which we are unable to meet. The only debt we should get into, St Paul argues, is the “debt of mutual love”. We should be willing to spend ourselves on the good of our neighbour.
He says that the commandments can be summed up in the ‘single command’: “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” We know that this is what is meant to distinguish us as Christians. It is what Christ taught and lived. Love should be the defining characteristic of our lives. We live not for ourselves but we live for others. Our attention is not just turned in on ourselves. We look outwards. We look towards the other. We are oriented to see what we can do for the good of others.
In the Gospel reading Jesus says that we should be concerned about the wellbeing of our “brother” – here he is referring to those in the Christian community. If we see something wrong in the life of our brother in the Christian community, the Lord says that we should address it. We address it not to find fault, not to condemn, but for the wellbeing, the eventual good, of the other. This is a challenging expectation.
It reminds us of the description of the Church as the Body of Christ given by St Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians. He says we are, each of us, parts of a body. He uses the image of the human body. Each part is different and interdependent. We may be unique but we need the contribution of the other. The hand needs the eye to show it what it is to grasp.
He also comments that when one part is suffering all parts are affected. When we have pain in one part of ourselves we find the whole body suffers.
Thus, we depend on one another and we need be concerned about the wellbeing of one another.
When Jesus came, he came to save. He came to heal and restore. He came to reveal the depth of the love of God for humanity. He came to serve and eventually to give up his life for us. He is our model and our inspiration.
As part of his ministry he was not afraid to call out hypocrisy. His message was a call to repentance and a turning back to God. He came to speak the truth, because, as he said, the truth will make you free.
He sets high standards for his disciples. He says that they have to be prepared to die to themselves if they are going to be his disciples. He calls them to leave everything and follow him.
Today as we gather for this Mass let us place the needs of our communities before the Lord. In doing this the readings today encourage us to think about the needs of others and what part we can play in responding to these needs.
Let us take a moment at this Mass to consider whom do we know who is in need. It may be an individual, or maybe a particular group. Then we can quietly consider what we may be able to do for them. Then we can turn to the Lord and ask for His help and guidance.
As St Paul says, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.”
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, September 6, 2020