26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Already in the first century, St Paul the apostle had to say something to St Timothy, who was the bishop of Crete. In his first letter to Timothy, St Paul speaks about love in the first sentence of today’s second reading. And then, almost in the same breath, he goes on to speak about something we don’t usually associate with love. “Man of God”, he writes to Timothy, “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness”. So far, so good.
But then he adds something we would not expect, especially in the boring translation we’re oblige to use at Mass. “Compete well for the faith”. You’d never know it, but this phrase is the origin of the usual translation, which is almost a proverb, “Fight the good fight”. St Paul is really saying, Be filled with faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Fight. “Fight the good fight”, but fight. Be filled with love, and fight, for love is not passive when the faith is being watered down.
St Paul here seems to be drawing out one of the implications of the great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart”. Logically and psychologically, the inevitable corollary is that we should not be half-hearted in our love for God, loving him with half our heart, and worldly values with the other half. In the context of faith, which St Paul mentions twice in the first two sentences, a whole-hearted love means no watering down of the Catholic faith to make it more acceptable to an aggressively secular world.
A true love for God means a recognition of the evil of modifying the faith which he has revealed and entrusted to the Church. It means a vehement rejection of falsehood and a passionate concern to fight against it. We can’t be sound and vigorous Christians without fighting the good fight for the faith, “keeping the commandment without stain or reproach”, as St Paul puts it. Remember that he was writing to a bishop, the bishop of Crete.
So what does a faithful Catholic do when the evil or falsehood is found in another Catholic? There’s an old saying that goes, “Hate the sin and love the sinner”. The problem with that is, how do you go about loving the sinner. We can get some idea of that in the first reading, from the prophet Amos: “The Lord” – he who is love – says, “Woe to the complacent…they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph! Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with”. The whole passage is not about sins but about sinners, and the Lord says, Woe to them, get them out of here into exile.
It’s the same thing in the Gospel. In our Lord’s parable, it’s not greed or wealth that suffers torment in the netherworld; it’s the rich man.
The truth is, Christ condemned as part of his mission, his mission to deliver us from the evil one, as the Lord’s Prayer can be translated. He had to point it out, to denounce it, as he does in this morning’s parable.
His mission was then confided to the Church, why is why the apostles’ letters contain so many denunciations. The fight against evil is committed to the whole Church, to every Christian. It is the first necessity of fighting that you identify your enemy and ascertain his whereabouts and his strength. We cannot fight evil unless we recognize it, and having recognized it, repudiate it intellectually and emotionally.
Each of us must do all we can for the salvation of our neighbor. And we must hate his vices because of what they are doing to him and to the whole Church. There is a time to take the jar of precious oitment and pour out its whole contents in one lavish gesture of love. There is also a time to take small cords and knot them into a whip with which to cleanse the temple. That time is now.