Radical Social Reversal

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Radical Social Reversal

Genesis 45: 3-15       Luke 6: 27-38

Joseph suggests that his brothers who committed the most heinous deed of selling him off to their enemies should not wallow in their guilt but rather reconcile and combine energies for the future. Joseph’s task in life was to forgive his brothers restore the familial relations and combine together for the sake of the people. His task is to redeem the bigger picture and their horrific deed pales into insignificance before the needs of the people.

Luke’s Jesus calls us to look at thigs a different way too. He says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” “Bless those who curse you” and here we remember the meaning of bless as ‘to kneel’ God blesses, God kneels, to bless is to kneel. Here we have blessing as a forgiveness of the horrific act’. And then it gets into harder territory. Jesus is asking us to be passive toward those who strike you, allow those who steal from you to have what they have stolen. Give it away, allow bad to happen to you and do it without expectation of revenge or recognition. Sounds not only impossible but also wrong to do this. We note here that many preachers avoid this text because if they do try to preach on it they feel as though they are walking on eggshells.


Why? Because in every congregation there are people who are fragile at various points in their lives, and this story can come like a vicious stomp. A revisiting of the trauma, a dragging it all up again. There are people who hear this story as “Love your rapist.” Or bless those who screwed up your life so badly that every relationship you have ever had has been a painful struggle. “There are women, some men and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent person, mostly it seems, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, they need to turn the other cheek and go back and love him or her.  And some of those partners and children are now dead because of a callous and gutless misuse of this story”.

The first big misuse of this story is to see it as being addressed to the individual. These words of Luke’s Jesus, such as: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
present the other cheek… are not addressed to individual people who have been
the victims of cruel abuse.  Period. They are addressed to those who have power. The power to take effective action for good or harm over another person. They are meaningless if directed to those who don’t have any power in a situation. They link the acts of the perpetrator to culture, social accepted-ness, systemic corruption. Kneel before those alienated by the power of others, collective others as well as individual others. Those with the real power to change things. What follows is a Yes Minister skit that makes fun out of the power game at the level of international politics. Under the script is the question of where the real power lies.

Yes Minister Video

‘Love your enemies’ John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says this of them; “A true meaning of the love command is not acquiescence to evil and violence, but imitation of God’s love by freeing enemies of their hatred and violent destructiveness…”  (Donahue, 2001, America, online weekly Catholic magazine). 

Jesus’ vision of a radical social reversal was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice. Robinson says it is a “call to people to do that good in actual practice… “not [be] seen as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who [trusted God]” (Robinson 2002:16).

Rex Hunt tells the story of Martin Luther King whom he cites as having done this well.

Martin Luther King Jr’s home was burned down one night by a group of white men
who did not like his message about the equality of the races. The situation after the fire was extremely dangerous. African Americans, under the leadership of King were becoming more confident of themselves, and less willing to be oppressed and neglected by society. And they were angry… Angry about how they had been treated for years by white society. Angry in particular that night that their leader’s home had been destroyed.

A crowd of King’s friends and supporters gathered outside the shell of the burnt-out house. Some talked of getting guns. Others talked about getting petrol and setting fire to the homes of all the white people in the area so they could suffer as the black people had suffered. The crowd wanted to hurt those who had hurt them. They wanted to hurt those who had burned Dr King’s home. They wanted to hurt their enemies. Indeed they wanted to destroy them. That night however did not end up that way. Instead the crowd left their enemies in peace and they went home determined to win the victory with votes instead of with guns, with politics instead of with fire, with love instead of hate.

One of the things Martin Luther King Jr told the crowd that night was this: When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people. Martin Luther King Jr was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, twice Nobel Peace Prize and recipient and chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when asked why his country chose to set up the Commission and work the way it did, replied: ‘To be human, we have to live in community, we have to restore community and in the end, only forgiveness will achieve that.  A person is a person through other persons.  Your humanity is caught up in my humanity. If you are de-humanized, then inexorably I am de-humanized. For me to be whole, you have to be whole. If you are a perpetrator, a torn and broken human being who has lost your humanity, then I too am less than whole.’ Desmond Tutu is a person who tries to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

We may not be able to match a King or a Tutu, but we can, and must, give it a go. The current environment in South Africa might be indicating that there is a renewal of turning the other cheek needed because maintaining such a love requires an ongoing commitment. Radical Social reversal is always needed. While we are not likely to be held accountable ‘if there was a reckoning ahead of us’, to why we were not a Martin Luther King or a Desmond Tutu it is more likely that we asked why we didn’t take the modest risks in our situation and push ourselves to our limit, to give life to the stranger, to our neighbour? So, what might be Jesus’ word to us today, as we work our way through thr current world social scene?


At the root of this day’s challenge is the call to live our lives out of an alternative vision of reality that reverses the values of the dominant culture, especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire. The invitation is to nourish our entire life with integrity. Be empowered with compassion, so that we might live a new kind of life in this world.

Robinson, J. M. 2002. “What Jesus had to say” in R. W. Hoover, (ed) Profiles of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.



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