You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Homily for September 10, 2017 (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Scott McClelland had a problem…a big problem:  Hurricane Harvey.  McClelland, the manager of H-E-B, the largest grocery chain in Texas, needed his stores to be open.  After all, closed businesses don’t make money.  More importantly he knew that the people who had lost their homes and almost everything they owned needed his stores to be open. How could he and his employees meet such an enormous challenge?

They found a way.  Within two days after the storm struck Houston, 60 of 83 H-E-B stores in the area were open, and within a week only four remained closed.  How they accomplished this reflects the wisdom in our scripture readings today:

  • Start with love.—Seeing so many of his neighbors suffering and his need, McClelland decided: “We’ll do whatever it takes.”
  • Keep it simple.—In ordering goods from suppliers, H-E-B focused on the things people really needed:  toilet paper, bleach, bread, water, batteries, canned food.  Instead of fifty kinds of bread their bakeries made three.
  • Be creative.—McClelland kept one store open with only five employees.  H-E-B used helicopters to fly truck drivers from San Antonio to Houston.
  • Involve the community.—Almost half of the H-E-B employees in Houston were flooded out of their homes.  Over 2000 of their fellow employees from all over the state volunteered to open the stores and keep them open. 

In our second reading, St. Paul reminds us:  “The commandments…are summed up in this saying, namely:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’….love is the fulfillment of the law.”  In a sense, each of us is also like Ezekiel:   we are called to watch out for each other.  We support each other; and sometimes that support requires that we challenge one another.  When we are in conflict, we are called to seek reconciliation.

In our gospel reading, Jesus gives us a model for overcoming those conflicts and achieving reconciliation.  We begin by meeting one-on-one.  If that doesn’t work, we try to do it with a small group.  If that doesn’t work, we involve the wider community, the church.  Unfortunately, sometimes we invert or confuse the process Jesus described, and we create divisions within the church.  This is especially dangerous if we use social media, which can quickly magnify and intensify even minor problems. 

In our Nicene Creed, we profess that we believe in “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”  Jesus reminds us of the power that even a couple of people can have if they are united in prayer and purpose: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Every time we gather around the Eucharistic table, we place our trust in that promise.  May we also remember that it is just as true outside the walls of this church and live what we celebrate. +