Psalm 95, chosen as the responsorial psalm for this particular Sunday, is categorized as an enthronement psalm, a song that praises God as the sovereign. It was used in the Temple in what we would call the “entrance hymn.” As the priests and the people processed into the courtyard immediately in front of the Holy of Holies, the Levites would lead people in singing this psalm.
It is comprised of three stanzas. The first stanza would be sung as the worshippers entered the courtyard. It calls them to praise God because God is the source of their salvation. The second stanza would be sung as the procession reached the sanctuary and, building on the call to worship, would add the call to enter the holy place.
However, it is at this point that the psalm takes on a different character. Now that the procession has entered the Temple, the worshippers are reminded that coming to the Temple and singing God’s praise is not the end of their responsibility. If they are true worshippers of God, they must stop and recall that they have been called to be obedient to God’s Word and God’s commandments. They recall that their ancestors ignored this admonition and had tempted God resulting in their forty year sojourn in the desert.
Our own Sunday worship begins by preparing ourselves for the gifts that we will receive; namely, the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Jesus. We prepare ourselves just as the children of Israel did in the Temple, by reminding ourselves that attending the Sunday liturgy is not the end of our responsibility. We remind ourselves of how we may have failed since the last time we entered God’s holy place. Then we proclaim God’s mercy, remembering all that God did for us through Jesus.
If we were to stop after the opening greeting and recount all the ways that we have failed to obey the commandments, we would never get to the part where we listen to God’s word and eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus. So we do not dwell upon our transgressions. Instead we recall how merciful and gracious God is in forgiving us.
In the passage we hear from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans for this Sunday, we are reminded that all the commandments are fulfilled in our love for our neighbor. By his clever use of a “double negative,” St. Paul reminds us that the only thing we owe to both God and our neighbor is our love. “Owe nothing except. . .” In other words, owe your neighbor everything, because love requires total self-giving. The debt of love is not an obligation that can be paid once and forgotten like a bank loan. It is more like a debt that can never be fully repaid and for which we are always liable.
Love of neighbor will take different forms depending upon the circumstances. Love is faithful to its commitments, and it respects the commitments of others, so adultery or any other form of sexual infidelity will be out of the question. Love holds life in high regard; it overcomes anger and revenge, and so it cannot entertain any thought of killing. Love respects the property of others and so it will not condone stealing or dishonesty of any kind. Love honors the rights of other people, and so it does not entertain thoughts of covetousness. Paul singles out only four commandments, but he insists that love covers all other commandments as well. When one truly loves another, one desires only what is good for that loved one. As Paul succinctly states: love is the fulfillment of the Law.
Paul uses the word “owe” to remind us that we are in a position of debt. We have been loved most graciously by God. We have been given so much by this munificent and providential God. God’s love for us is so overwhelming that God was willing to sacrifice the life of His Only Begotten Son for our sake. This is a debt that we can never repay; at the same time, that debt carries with it a responsibility that we can never forget.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator