Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

I think that all of us have tried to loved our enemies – or at least considered in retrospect occasions we could have or should have.  An enemy is by definition someone who does wrong – intentionally or unintentionally.  We could still consider someone an enemy even if they don’t directly or indirectly wrong our own person.  The Gospel does not command us not to have enemies, because we cannot control other people and make them choose to do good always and everywhere.  We become the enemies of others when we act selfishly, we are enemies of God by our sin, the fact that we don’t want to consider anyone an enemy doesn’t mean we don’t have any.  Joseph didn’t want to be the enemy of his brothers, David didn’t want to be the enemy of Saul, etc.

We must come to recognize who our enemies are so that we can be charitable to them on purpose.  Part of Charity is rebuke – but that rebuke is always aimed at removing the obstacles to Charity.  When Charity comes up against an obstacle it pushes through so that communion can be reestablished.  One of the enemies of the Church today is the open and irresponsible criticism of leaders.  This enemy is unfortunately widespread and ingrained even in the hearts of many of the Church’s members.

Today, as a society, we have decided that it is mostly alright to openly criticize our leaders.  We criticize, openly, our Bishops, our Pope, our President, our Governor, our Pastors, our School Principles – basically anyone in charge.  Working towards creating a just society means assuming the best possible motives to our neighbors, and especially our leaders.  Detraction, defamation, calumny, and ridicule destroy communities.


In all this he [Augustine] thought of himself as a watchman set by the Lord over the house of Israel; he preached the word in season and out of season, convincing, exhorting, rebuking and teaching with unfailing patience and taking special care to teach in turn those fitted for teaching others. When asked by some to take a hand in their temporal concerns, he wrote letters to various persons for them, but he regarded this occupation as a kind of forced labor that took him away from more important things. His real delight was to speak of the things of God, whether in public addresses or at home in familiar converse with his brothers.1


Although it is best for us to be ever aware of our unworthiness and to confess our sins before God, nevertheless it is good and necessary to speak when the times demand it, for I see the church that God founded on the apostles and prophets, its cornerstone being Christ his Son, tossed on an angry sea, beaten by rushing waves, shaken and troubled by the assaults of evil spirits. Impious people seek to rend asunder the seamless robe of Christ and to cut his body in pieces: his body, which is the Word of God and the ancient tradition of the church. Therefore I think it unreasonable to keep silence and hold my tongue.2


Love is a debt which you owe to your brother because of your spiritual relationship to him.… If love departs from us, the whole body is torn in pieces. Therefore love your brother, for if you can fulfill the law by befriending him, then the benefit you receive puts you in his debt.3


Paul shows that the fulfillment of the law is found in love, i.e., in charity. Thus also the Lord says that the whole law and prophets depend on these two precepts, the love of God and neighbor. So he who came to fulfill the law gave love through the Holy Spirit, so that charity might accomplish what fear could not.4


Do not fail to repay debts. Only the debt of love should remain, because it can never be paid in full. According to the parable of the Lord, who bids us show mercy to everyone without distinction, we must think of every person as our neighbor. Paul mentioned love first because he was writing to the faithful and dealing with behavior proper to righteousness.5


The beginning and the end of virtue is love.… But Paul is not looking merely for love; he wants it to be an intense love. For he does not say merely: “Love your neighbor,” but adds: “as yourself.” Christ himself said that the law and the prophets hang upon this.6


Paul is using the words of the law to arrive at the meaning of the gospel. Therefore when he records the fulfilling of the law he ties it to the gospel, demonstrating that both have a single author. Yet in the time of Christ it was necessary to add something, viz., that we should love our enemies as well as our neighbors.… What does it mean to love an enemy, except to choose not to hate him any longer and to seek to do him no harm?… For the Lord himself on the cross prayed for his enemies in order to demonstrate what the fullness of righteousness, which he had taught, actually was.7


The rule of love is that one should wish his friend to have all the good things he wants to have himself and should not wish the evils to befall his friend which he wishes to avoid himself. He shows this benevolence to all men. No evil must be done to any. Love of one’s neighbor works no evil. Let us then love even our enemies as we are commanded, if we wish to be truly unconquered.8


If our brother has sinned against us and damaged us in anything, we have the power of dismissing it, in fact the obligation to do so, since we are commanded to forgive our debtors their debts. But if anyone sins against God, it is not in our control. Divine Scripture says, “If a man has sinned against a man, the priest will pray for him; but if he sins against God, who will speak for him?” But we, on the contrary, are lenient over a sin against God but act out our hatred when we ourselves are insulted. Yet we should immediately reprove our brother, if he has once lost his shame and innocence, so that he does not remain in sin. And if he listens, we profit his soul, and through the salvation of another we too acquire salvation. But if he refuses to listen, we should summon a brother; and if he does not listen to him either, yet a third should be summoned in the hope of either correcting him or meeting him with witnesses. Then if he refuses to listen even to these, the congregation must be told, so that they may curse him. Then the one who could not be saved through shame may be saved through their approbation. But since it is said, “Let him be to you as a heathen and a publican,” the person who under the name of faith does an infidel’s works is shown to be more cursed than those who openly are heathen. Publicans, figuratively speaking, are those who pursue the profits of the secular world and exact taxes by business, fraud, theft, crimes and false oaths.9


Well introduced were the words “whatever you loose,” since he shows that if they loose those who repent, their action has power, since the church in heaven and on earth is one. Anyone who does not want to be loosed from the bond of his sin but draws it to himself by the alienation of the saints is alienated also from the church in heaven and accordingly is also bound by it. Hence, if one is earnest about being loosed and receives the loosing of the saints when they “ratify their love for him,” as Paul teaches, he will belong in the heavenly church and be loosed from the bondage of the judgment.10


He did not say to the leader of the church, “bind him” but “if you bind him,” leaving the whole entire decision to the one aggrieved. Only after a due process do the bonds remain unbreakable, and so he will suffer the worst fate. It is not the one who has called for accountability that is to blame but the one who had not been willing to be persuaded. Do you see how Christ has bound him with a twofold constraint, both by the chastisement here and by the punishment hereafter? He threatens the one punishment to prevent the other from happening. Thus, by fearing both rejection from the church and the threat of being bound in heaven, he may become better behaved. And knowing these things, if not at the beginning, at any rate through so many judgments he will put off his anger. For this reason, Jesus set up a first and a second and a third judging. He does not immediately cut him down, so that if he does not obey the first, he may still yield to the second. But if he rejects that too, he may still respect the third. But if he takes no account of this third danger, let him be terrified of future punishment, of God’s sentence and vengeance.11


  1. LIFE OF AUGUSTINE 19.5–6. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 99). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. ON DIVINE IMAGES 1.1.11 Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 99). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. HOMILIES ON ROMANS 23. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 318). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. AUGUSTINE ON ROMANS 75. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 318). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. PELAGIUS’S COMMENTARY ON ROMANS. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 319). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. HOMILIES ON ROMANS 23. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 319). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 320). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  8. OF TRUE RELIGION 87. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 320). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  9. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 3.18.15–17. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 77). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  10. FRAGMENT 96. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 79). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  11. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 60.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 79). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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