Revolutionary Love, Part II
By Olivia Sonell
Love is an important theme in Christian scripture. Being referenced about 179 times, depending on translation, “love” is often considered one of the foundational concepts in Christian thought. Christians are taught to “love thy neighbor”, “love God”, and “love thine enemy”. St. Paul’s poem about the necessity of love is one of the most quoted pieces of Christian scripture.
But that doesn’t mean that Christians always understand what love means. As discussed in Revolutionary Love, Part I, often the Christian understanding of love has less to do with what Jesus, the Prophets, and the Apostles taught, and more to do with what will serve the interests of the Principalities and Powers that rule the world. To dominate and exploit the masses, they distort the liberating message of Gospel love into one of oppression. Their love always “turns the other cheek” and never goes “out to buy a sword”.
If the Greatest Love embodies sacrifice, the free giving of our time and energy to manifesting God’s Kin-dom, it must translate into how we relate to our fellow disciples and comrades. Neither Christ Jesus nor his apostles were short on words addressing the conduct of the oppressed toward one another.
Blessed are the Poor…
One clear example of this teaching is Jesus’ Sermon On the Plain, from Luke 6:17-49.
Verse 17 establishes that those who were gathered to listen to Jesus that day were his disciples and those who desired healing from sickness and freedom from “unclean spirits.” Throughout this teaching Jesus addresses his words to the “the Poor” and “those willing to hear.” From this we can make some assumptions regarding the context of the admonitions to “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. … Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” ~Luke 6:27-28,30-31 (CEB)
Jesus is speaking to the Poor, the sick, and those willing to hear, about how to treat each other: brothers, sisters, siblings, and comrades from among the people. He’s not talking about how to respond when employers cheat workers out of their wages, or when landlords “repossess” a family’s home, but how to respond when others amongst the downtrodden treat one badly. He’s teaching them how to be an example of what it means to build community, to show deep compassion, to love as he did.
My experience in church, activist, and educational spaces has taught me that when I respond to the anger and frustration of other oppressed folk with my own, we get nowhere. We aren’t able to have constructive dialogue, and our conversation often devolves into arguments and bickering. Thanks to the trauma we’ve all experienced under capitalism, in these heated interpersonal situations, we can often be responding to how we have been hurt in the past, rather than what’s directly happening in the moment.
Of course, learning how not to react to the provocations of our siblings and comrades, sisters and brothers, isn’t an easy thing. It requires that we heed Jesus’ words when he tells us to “take the log out of your eye.” Otherwise, when our sister throws harsh words at us that we feel are unwarranted, we can find ourselves responding by throwing them back. That’s not the love that lays its life down for its friends.
Now, I’m not saying that Revolutionary and Christian love requires that we respond with passivity to every provocation and antagonistic attitude and action from our comrades. According to Matthew 18:15-17 and Luke 17:1-4, Jesus encouraged his disciples to correct each other, patiently, and often in private, so as not to embarrass one another.
Building Trust for the Kindom
Just as Jesus participated in these kinds of interpersonal struggles, and encouraged his disciples to do so, we must learn to correct “each other in love” because it is through struggle that we learn and build trust. I personally trust those who correct me when I am wrong way more than those who would let me continue being foolish for the sake of peace.
Jesus is trying to communicate to his followers what is necessary to build community and trust amongst the downtrodden, the masses of people abused by the imperial state and its clients. He knew, of course, that this was a lesson the disciples would have to learn and enact amongst themselves first. And much of the Church today remains unable to put this teaching into practice.
Too often Church communities are constructed with a very insular trust based on everyone seeing eye to eye, or at the very least, not voicing their disagreements. Steeped in an insular worldview, these churches are unable to listen for the voices of the oppressed from both inside the church walls and those down the street. Members of these communities rarely challenge each other to move beyond feeding the poor to ending poverty, from supporting endless wars to endlessly opposing war, and from supporting capitalism to organsing for socialism.
For Christians, enacting Revolutionary Love requires honouring our commitments to the poorest among us, to the beaten and downtrodden, to hear what is being said and respond justly. When our fellow disciples and comrades hurt us, disagree with us, or even seem to hate us, the loving response is to pray for them AND to bring up the issue with them, and with trusted members of the larger community. Christian disciples need to see each other as comrades in the struggle for the Kindom of Heaven, whom we love and fight with and for, even when we don’t get along.
As Christians wrapped up in the Revolutionary Love of God, let us commit to the struggle for liberation as Jesus taught us while cultivating the kind of community that can sustain a Gospel-based transformation of society. It isn’t just about learning to be nice, polite, or friendly--we care for the relationships between comrades and siblings in Christ so that we can become a force against all oppressors for the long haul. The only way we’ll get to freedom is together.
Questions for Reflection:
What are some concrete ways you already build kindom trust in your faith spaces?
How might you practice turning the other cheek in your communities?
How might you practice “correcting each other in love?”
Who are your neighbors, comrades, and siblings?