What is Radical Change? Or Social reversal?

Posted: February 15, 2022 in Uncategorized

This morning’s sermon is an attempt to claim that Radical Change is the move from a confident certainty of faith to a faith of great weakness and that the social reversal is to see and acknowledge the harm done by a misinterpretation of what loving one’s enemies actually means.

Firstly, we have to admit that there are some biblical stories we’d rather not preach on or tell. And that this morning’s story by Luke might be one of them. It could be that preaching on this story is like walking on eggshells. One is aware that in every congregation or community there are people who are fragile and at various points in their lives vulnerable, and this story can come like a vicious stomping. It can be heard as ‘stay in your abusive relationship’ or ‘Love your rapist.’ Or simply bless those who screwed up your life so badly that every relationship you have ever had has been a painful struggle. Love the one who robs you or freedom, who beats you, bullies you, destroys your life. And we are reminded that, “There are women and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent man, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, to turn the other cheek and go back and love him.  And some of those women and children are now dead because of that callous and gutless misuse of this story”.

In light of this hesitation and these horrible examples of an enemy we have to revisit these words of Luke’s Jesus. We have to re-examine the meaning of the words such as: love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, present the other cheek… and we have to see that they are not addressed to individual people who have been the victims of cruel abuse.  Period. They are not to be used in this way, but rather as words addressed to those who have power… They are addressed to people who have 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.

John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says: “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 is of a radical theology of a radical social reversal that was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice. A call to people to do that good in actual practice…
“not to be seen as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who trusted God” (Robinson 2002:16).

Rex Hunt when exploring this text makes comment about two examples of this radical social reversal. The first was Martin Luther King Jr whose 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.”

King believed that those who held the real power would not be changed by force or perhaps even a winning argument but rather by incremental, cultural and social acceptability. A change rooted in loving one’s enemies. Martin Luther King Jr was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

Another of this ilk was Bishop Desmond Tutu, twice Nobel Peace Prize 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 dehumanized, then inexorably I am dehumanized. 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.’ Again, Desmond Tutu was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

About now all this sounds good and logical so what is it that makes it radical theology? Or what might be Jesus’ word to us today when he says Love your enemies?

We what is the nature of this power that Jesus calls us to? What does a weak theology or a weak God look like? Well! What if the Genesis narrative was about the weak force of God in the face of God’s mightiest feat, creation, which, however exhilarating, is a feat of cyclical spinning of clay that needs re-spinning? Maybe we should be honest and not hide that fact that the power lies not in the completion of, nor in the success of but rather in the ambiguity of, the incompleteness of, and the weak force that is ultimately stronger than the strong power. Maybe the message is that we have had power up our sleeve right from the start. And it is when we side with the lowly of this world we would then be visited by the power of God, who love his enemies. The humbling of human power in order to exalt the mighty power of God is a ruse; it uses weakness in a bait-and-switch game, as a lure in order to spring power at the crucial moment. We should have the strength of our convictions and allow our weak theology and anarchic hypothesis to play itself out, to stretch all the way from the world to include God. The power of this weak God is deployed to confound the powerful, all the way to God, to what we have been calling the weakness of God.

So, in Caputo’s words we pose the question: what if, in the name of a weak theology, we reconceived God as something unconditional but without sovereignty? What if the event that stirs in the name of God is the event of a weak force? What then? Remember here that the gap we spoke of earlier. The God of the gap is best described as ad interim or ‘Almost’. In being ‘Almost’ there opens up an alternative possibility than the highly hierarchical power story that emerged in the later theological tradition.

If we take another look at this argument for a weak theology, we can consider how creation form nothing would, work against the traditional idea of the “gift” that God is giving. Without the in-originate desert and the watery deep, God cannot give a true gift because God cannot give up or give over, not in truth, and expose Godself to risk, or make Godself vulnerable. As Moltmann says, God cannot love if God cannot make himself vulnerable. Without the desert and the deep, God would remain in such total annihilatory, exnihilatory absolute control of what God makes, God would retain so much possession of what God gives, with so much power over it, that it would only be by a weak analogy that we could speak of a gift or of God giving, or even of the production of something “other” than God. The word by which God lets the world be must also be the word by which God lets the world go, letting Godself in for something that God did not bargain for or see coming.

When we idealize God into an ideal observer who knows and sees everything past, present, and coming, we leave behind the biblical narrative in which Yahweh lets himself in for a future that he had not planned on and in which he comes to regret his decision. The possibility of regret is a condition of the possibility of the gift. Time is not a creature in these narratives—the Hebrews did not have a Platonic idea of eternity beyond time. Rather, time is the element in which they transpire, the common horizon of God and the elements, while the foreseeability of the future is an elemental part of time.

Otherwise, creation is just more of the divine self-same, God and more God, the same engendering the same, and there would be no alterity in creation. That kind of ex nihilo monotheism is continually exposed to pantheism, on the one hand, where God simply suffocates the very world into which God was trying to breathe life, or, on the other hand, to the reduction of religion to the sycophantic praise of a transcendent Power-God who would seem to enjoy such obsequiousness, of a Zeus-like oriental tyrant or a decadent Roman emperor, to whom we pray for magical interventions on the course of history and nature. Without the mythological tohu wa-bohu and the tehom, the horizon of the narratives is dramatically and disproportionately shifted away from that of beauty, goodness, and life and over to that of power and of being. They are turned into explanations of why the world is there, instead of proclamations that what is there is beautiful. God is love, the world is God’s and it is the unconditional fragility and serendipitous-ness that reveals and is revealed in the beautiful weakness of God. ‘Almost. Radical change, social reversal. Love one’s enemies and know the real power of God.

I want to end this with a call from Rex Hunt. Where he says; “live your lives out of an alternative vision of reality that reverses the values of the dominant culture, especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire. Nourish your entire life with integrity and be empowered with compassion, that you may indeed live a new kind of life in this world. Amen.

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

Caputo, John D. The Weakness of God (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion) (p. 84). Indiana University Press. Kindle Edition.


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