Opening the Word: Love doesn't tolerate

Tolerance — the willingness to live among others with different viewpoints — is an inadequate category for Christians.

Christians emphasize not tolerance but love. For this reason, it means some of our disagreements with fellow believers simply can’t be passed over.

Love requires more. Sometimes, love entails correction.

Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches his disciples how to deal with these moments of correction. To correct a fellow believer does not require an immediate public shaming of the disciple.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Mt 18:15).

Note that our Lord emphasizes that the encounter should be private, one-on-one. It is a moment for healing, an opportunity to hear God’s own voice mediated through a fellow disciple: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:7-8).

Still, this disciple may not listen. Love means now bringing along others to offer correction.

If this doesn’t work, then the whole Church should be involved.

If this doesn’t work, “then treat him as you would a gentile or a tax collector” (Mt 18:17).

Yet, how is a tax collector treated? How about a gentile? We hear at the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew the following: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

The Church continually preaches love: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8).

Many of us reading this column may have in mind specific fellow disciples in our lives who require correction. But this passage requires something more from us than thinking about correcting others. For it may be the case that it is me who is in need of correction. I’m the one whose heart could be hardened, who resists fraternal correction.

Perhaps I’m the one who needs to be confronted about the way that I spend my money.

Perhaps I’m the one who needs to be told about my lack of discipline in prayer.

Perhaps a fellow disciple must speak to me about my abuse of alcohol or the delight I take in gossip.

Perhaps a fellow disciple needs to remind me to care for all those on the margins rather than to remain committed to the power politics of the Republicans or the Democrats.

If today, you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Both giving and accepting such correction is not easy. It requires a humility that recognizes in the voice of one’s fellow disciple an often painful but healing correction. It requires for the one offering correction a sense that a duty is fulfilled. It cannot be an occasion of a superior lording one’s excellence over another.

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In this sense, when we speak about the love that exists at the heart of the Church, we don’t mean a benign tolerance that allows anything to get by. We mean a love that heals every dimension of human sinfulness. A love that is aware of our own fragility, our own identity as those reconciled to divine life.

Such love is one in that God is “reconciling the world to himself in Christ and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19).

Entrusting this work of reconciliation, of healing, of redemption to such fragile instruments.

That’s not tolerance.

That’s divine love.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.