Posted by: rogermitchell | December 31, 2013

Love that disarms the powers

The sequence of the Jesus story takes us directly from his own trinitarian relational encounter with love to a major confrontation with Satan.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased'” (Lk 3:22). Straight afterwards the Spirit led him to confront the devil in the wilderness (Lk 4:1). My post from Jerusalem on October 30th, several posts back, suggests that the three temptations that make up that confrontation expose deep structures of evil that undergird the foundations of empire. All three configure a self centered use of power, and the social and political structures that emanate from them and the evil spirit behind them, form the powers.

By this measure the essential powers of empire are the economics that preserve one’s personal and tribal survival at the expense of other human beings; the politics that dominate one’s fellow humans and their socio-cultural lives; and the competitive drive to risk all to gain the high ground of religion, fame and popularity.
It is important to grasp how the story depicts the way an encounter with altruistic love accentuates an awareness of the powers. The authority of love then deliberately confronts evil head on, but not with the violence, law and appeasement that are the tools of sovereign power, but with the word of love from the mouth of God that the baptism incident narrates, with its resultant worship, service and humility. Even in relations with the devil, seen here as representing ultimate evil, dialogue replaces violence, and the use of the written word is conversational not judicial. The devil remains free to leave. The final “be gone” is until “an opportune time,” until another opportunity to oppose Jesus presents itself, and there is certainly no attempt here to appease the devil. When the culmination of the confrontation of Jesus and the powers takes place at the cross it is this same loving authority that is manifest. The authority of love at the cross is seen in Jesus’ willing suffering at the hand of the powers in order to prove the enduring victory of a life given in love for the other, not in violent retribution against the powers. Love disarms the powers by rendering them powerless.

It is impossible to overestimate the impact and importance of a deep relational encounter with a love that loves through and beyond us and includes our enemies.
This is the kind of love that completes me but is not only about me. Without this, love has no authority. As Luke describes later, Jesus was very clear about this “even sinners love those who love them” (Lk 6: 32). The love that overcomes the powers is not a self-centered love. It is a love that so affirms the identity and value of a human being that the whole of humanity is thereby affirmed. The story of Jesus affirms the existence of this kind of love. I am emphatically not making an exclusive point here. I initially encountered this kind of love in friends who cared for my family when I was a small boy. Ultimately I concluded that its source was Jesus. But this is beyond some narrowly religious confessional claim. I simply maintain that this kind of love exists, that if it does it has an authority that undoes the powers and it is important to understand how!

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Responses

  1. Simon Orton makes the following comment:

    This is clear, crisp, and very challenging.
    I have often been challenged about how Jesus could keep Judas within his team. It is this love that you talk about that enabled him to serve and include both a John and a Judas alike.
    My challenge is that I don’t always operate like this, particularly with people I dislike. Reading articles like this are helpful correctives. It is also very sobering to reflect on how many innocent lives have been victims of the so called ‘privileged class’ misusing political and economic systems for their own end. I think my world is too parochial. Time for a change in 2014? Keep it flowing Roger!

  2. A rather lovely explanation Roger about the power of love. Funny how we rarely trust love to have that kind of power and yet most of us, I would guess, have had some experience with such love during our lives – however briefly. We fear it don’t we. We fear its power to disarm us and so resist it or redefine it. And yet, I think many of us long for such a love in our lives. It is so much work, takes so much energy to resist it. Being able to trust such love to do what is needed is kind of like sinking into a hot bath after a long day, we can finally relax. That doesn’t mean things go easily or nicely – far from it. Such love is the ultimate challenge to the power of empire and they hate it. But within it, wrapped up in it, we can be at peace and feel a lovely sense of freedom. c.


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