Love that Cares: 18th Sunday Ordinary Time
The Bible says a lot about how much God hates sin. I don’t think you can miss it. I think most every Catholic knows that God really hates sin. I’m not so sure that everyone understands why.
I think sometimes people imagine God hating sin because He’s so incredibly angry at the thought of someone breaking His rules. Like “I’m in charge and what I say goes and how dare you defy Me?” But I don’t think that’s the best way to understand God’s hatred of sin.
For a better understanding - and this is a bracing example, but that's why I chose it - imagine the father of a young man who has become addicted to heroin. He raised this boy with big dreams, and now he’s watching them all fade to black. He would’ve died to protect this child, but he can’t keep him from knocking on the dealer’s door. He worked and worried to provide for this boy, to raise him healthy and strong, and now he’s watching that healthy body wither, ravaged and sickly.
How much does that father loathe heroin? What white-hot hatred burns in his heart for that drug?
And you know why: he burns with hatred for what is hurting his child. But you can see that the hatred of the evil isn’t the first thing. His love for his son is the first thing. His feelings have nothing to do with being resentful and petty that his "no drugs" rule was broken; that would be foolish to imagine. And it would be even more foolish to imagine that since he hates the drug so much, he must also hate the son who keeps taking it. Of course not! It’s just the opposite. The hatred of the drug is a direct result of his love for his son.
It seems so simple and clear when we think of a human father. So why do so many people misunderstand the heart of our heavenly Father? It’s really just as simple. God hates sin because it hurts His children. The hatred of sin is because He loves us so much.
We hear God’s fatherly heart through the Prophet Isaiah: “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” There is a tone of pleading here, a Father watching the ones He loves take wrong turns and heartbreaking mistakes that just make us miserable, and it doesn’t have to be this way, He wants so much more for us.
To have a good relationship with our heavenly Father, it’s just essential that we understand this, that we receive His commandments as guidance from a fatherly heart, that we understand His hatred of sin as an expression of fatherly protective love for us.
And to be His messengers in the world, it’s just essential that we imitate this love. We have the same hatred of sin and for the same reason. We look at others with the same compassion and love. We don’t look at the world going astray with disgust and revulsion, but with compassion and pity. It’s not “ugh, so much sinfulness, everyone is so awful.” It’s that pleading of love: “I care about you and I want so much more for you!”
We have to do better at carrying this love into the world. We fail too often in both aspects of it. We fail to hate sin as we should, and we tell ourselves that it’s because we’re so tolerant and nice and want to get along with everyone. When in reality it’s just that our love is so small. We simply don't care about others enough to be all that bothered by what's keeping them from the holy joy God wants them to have. If that father said “heroin? I’m cool with it, whatever,” we wouldn’t praise him for being so tolerant. We’d say he’s a bad Dad. We’d wonder how he could love his son so little.
But if we do hate sin, we too often go on to fail at the even more basic part by failing to love people like God loves them. Or, if we really do look at people with love and compassion, we fail to make them see that. When the Church says this or that choice is wrong, do the people making that choice feel loved or condemned? You know the answer is, very often, they feel condemned. They think the religious people are looking at them with disgust and anger. Maybe some of them are, and they need to stop. Maybe some of them aren’t, but they need to try harder to communicate the love behind the teaching.
A lot of us struggle with this in our families and among our friends. When someone you love so much is choosing actions that you believe are against God’s commandments, and you know the reason they’re against God’s commandments is that they’re ultimately bad for the person you love so much, it’s so hard to even talk about that. Because you’re so afraid they won’t know how much you love them, how much you like them. You’re afraid when you try to say “this isn’t the right path and I want so much better for you” what they’ll hear instead is “you’re gross and I think you’re a bad person, please change so you will be less awful to me.” It’s tough. But with family and friends we tend to put the first emphasis on making people feel loved and welcome and wanted and liked. I think that’s a good instinct, and the same goes for our public witness as a Church. We can’t claim to love people if we don’t care about sin, but talking about sin probably won’t work very well if they don’t believe they are loved and welcome and wanted and liked.
The closer we get to God, the more our hearts will burn like His… first with love for every human person, and as a necessary consequence with hatred for those things that hurt them and lead them away from the heavenly joy that they were meant to have. We’ll plead with Isaiah, “Come to the water!” We’ll hear the mission of Jesus just like the Apostles: take care of my people. That day by the waterside, the Apostles didn’t see the crowd as Jesus did. They saw the hunger, and their response was “well, we’d better send them away.” But Jesus didn’t establish a Church to see needs and send those people away. He told them to start feeding them. You know the rest. They said the same thing we always say: “We aren’t up to it, we don’t have what it takes, we aren’t enough.”
The thing is, Jesus doesn’t seem to think that’s relevant at all. After all, He didn’t ask them and He isn’t asking us to give whatever we can come up with on our own. He’s asking us to offer them what He provides, what people truly need more than anything… and that’s nothing other than Jesus Himself. He is the gift, and He is enough.