Owe Nothing to Anyone
Sometimes great messages and important, yet complex, ideas can get summed up in a very succinct way. That is the case with today’s devotional passage. The whole of the Gospel’s moral message is summed up here in these few words from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
“Owe nothing to anyone, 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 kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet; and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
As a teacher, I used to ask my students a very simple question in relationship to passages like this: What would the world be like if everybody consciously chose to live like this? Of course, they would always get the insight right. It would be very different. They would realize that it would be a better place. They would even see the wisdom of desiring such a world. But those insights would always run into the reality of the world as soon as they left the classroom. The fact of the matter is that the world they (we) know is a world of adultery, murder and war, all kinds of theft and fraud and greed at all levels of society, private and public.
A Christian understands that the world is this way because of our human failure to love, to see and to act beyond the desires of the self alone. He or she recognizes that the madness of things like adultery, and murder, and theft, and greed are rooted in this lack of love. We know that the God of creation created all things out of this love, and that he made us in his own image and likeness. We have been taught these words: “Let us love one another because love is of God. Anyone who knows love, knows God. Anyone who does not know love, does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4: 7ff) If we want a world that is better, then, we must individually begin to live the commandment to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” This, as we know, is the second of the Two Great Commandments, and it is possible only if we also live out of the first of those commandments, that is, to love God with our whole minds, hearts, bodies and souls. This is the only force that can make the world a better place. It will not come through government legislation, or human ideologies of social justice. The only justice, the only antidote to adultery, murder, theft and greed, is that which Paul is writing about in this passage. Out of humility, we Christians know that we can not live this way by shear force of will alone. We know that we need the grace of God to live in this radical and purposeful way. Our greatest prayer then is: “Thy will (not mine) be done.” Let your will be done in and through me. Help me to empty my ego so that you may fill me up to overflowing with your love. Help me to “fulfill the law” by loving my neighbor as myself. Amen.