Here’s something I saw on the internet (so it must be true) the other day: “Fall in love with someone who doesn’t make you think love is hard.” I could see many of my friends see this and go “aww, isn’t that sweet?” And many people I know would quickly agree with this sentiment. But I don’t.
And I don’t not because I believe love should be hard, but because I believe love is profoundly more than some romantic feeling or some Hollywood happy ending. Love is costly and love is, well, God is love. And knowing God and loving God has been the most difficult and rewarding work I have ever done in my life. But we live in a society shaped by deep-seated notions that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” or “All you need is love” or “Love is a many splendored thing.” And all of this has shaped our thinking about love being something we “fall” into or we are somehow zapped by “love at first sight.”
The sad reality is that this “too small” notion of profound love leaves many of us hollowed out by feelings of failure or even unworthiness. Why can’t I have that kind of love? What’s wrong with me? The expectations of some fairy tale notions wound us and wound our children. And that, dearest, is precisely the evil one’s intentions. Because the end result of these fantasies is the depressing lie that there is no such thing as love, and that always leads to “there is no such thing as God.” Game, set, match kingdom of darkness!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 18:10-20:
The Lord said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of man came to save the lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven, for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Look at the cost of a radical commitment to true communion, to true love. First, we can’t dismiss even the little ones from our attention. Our commitment to true love, to radical communion, means we live out the costly reality of paying attention, of preferring to consider the “lost sheep” worth our efforts to find them. This kind of attention, of attentiveness is difficult in a world gripped by the notion “well, don’t I deserve to be happy?”
Next, this true love, this radical communion insists on honest relationships. If your brother wounds you, don’t be passive aggressive. Don’t pretend. Be honest and go to your brother. Risk the dangers of honesty and realize that radical communion means a wound in one member of the body is a wound for the whole body! Don’t take our communion for granted. Do the hard work of love, of communion and don’t let anything break this bond of love.
So, what do you do if the other won’t reconcile? Radical communion, true love insists on honesty! We must tell the truth about reality, and sometimes that means that if the other is hell-bent on division, schism, and a betrayal of love then we have to tell the truth about this and say the other has chosen to truly be “other” from us. But watch how Christ closes this passage! He insists that our radical communion, our true love is liberated from time and space. And He promises that where radical communion is practiced, He is there as well adding His strength, His love, to our faithfulness to communion in love!
Today, do you experience honest relationships? Is your commitment to communion and true love calling you to the hard work of love? The work that says I will allow my relationships to shape me into a more Christ-like person is the whole point of the hard work of communion. Yesterday we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Lord’s Church and now we live in the empowered Presence of the risen Lord in our midst. You have all the power, the strength, and the motivation to become this person who loves well and is willing to pay the price to build communion with others. Now all that’s left is the hard work of applying this wisdom to your life everyday!