“Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
I was halfway through writing this week’s reflection when I received word that my Aunt had died, and somehow the words that I had been going to write seemed irrelevant. I thought about the last time that I spoke with my aunt. She had recently been told that cancer would take her life, but it was the loneliness of her current situation that she found unbearable. Because of the pandemic she could not have visitors and the tumor in her brain had deprived her of any interest in life. Even the faith that had sustained her, her whole life seemed to have slipped out of her grasp. She was listless and except for brief flashes of anger, she was empty. Then, at the very end of the conversation something changed; there was a spark of life and a moment that felt like real connection. As I was saying goodbye, I told her that I loved her and she responded slowly and deliberately, “I know you do. I love you too.” I felt the truth of her words in the core of my being, and in that experience, I felt the presence of God.
As I read Paul’s words to the Romans, Aunt Judi’s words keep echoing in my mind: “I know you do, I love you too.” I felt the power of those words when she spoke them, and I feel them again today. My aunt and I were never particularly close. I spent a few weeks with her when I was in my early teens and my parents were away. As I recall, those were not very easy weeks for either of us. They underscored the fact that we were very different people with very different priorities. That never really changed. We enjoyed each other’s company when the family was together for holidays, but I don’t recall very many one-on-one conversations. Nevertheless, when all else was stripped away, there was a debt of love between us that brought meaning and hope in a time of emptiness. In that final exchange between the two of us, there was a lifetime of belonging and support and a sense of connection that extended beyond the two of us and held us both in a place of comfort and safety.
Paul calls love the fulfillment of the law. The purpose of the law in Jewish understanding was to bind the people to God. When we love one another, God is present; nothing else matters. That was the experience that I had with my Aunt on the telephone and that is the experience I witness over and over in my work in the hospital, as I watch families come together in love and let go of everything else in order to support the one who is sick or dying. “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” It seems so simple … it is so simple, and yet it is so very difficult to do. Too often we get caught up in all the other things in life that seem so important: projects and goals, efficiency, productivity, reputation … the list goes on and on. We spend so much of our time fighting for one thing or one group at the expense of another. We argue about rights and freedoms. We worry about the economy. We dread the idea of giving too much to those who do not deserve it. We disagree about who is taking advantage of whom. We despair that our world is falling apart, and we cry out, “where is God.” And all the time the answer is in front of us. Focus on the one thing, the one debt and duty that matters: love one another, and in that we will find God. Each time we feel despair, each time we feel overwhelmed, we are called to pause and ask ourselves, “what is the most loving choice that I can make in this moment and in this situation?”