One of the most profound theological statements is only three words long – “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love is the defining characteristic of God’s nature, his personality, his code of conduct. Within the Godhead we find the ultimate picture of interdependent, mutually-submissive, other-centred community – love in its perfect form. Jesus put flesh to love, showing us what it looked like lived out in real life. And he calls us, his followers, to the way of love.
Only, our world doesn’t teach us to walk in the way of love. Since Adam and Eve turned their backs on God’s way, humanity has been broken and damaged. Our relationships have been marked by power struggles, violence and inequality. We jostle for position, prestige and privilege, at the expense of others. We adopt hierarchy structures to convey some sense of order to the continuous wrestle for control over one another. We establish “organisational charts” in our businesses, government and military as a visual reminder that those at the top hold the most authority and influence, while those at the bottom have little or none. Most of us put up with the-way-things-are without questioning, but ask anyone at the lowest tiers of our society – the ones who have no voice, no impact and no way of climbing upwards – and they’ll tell you the system is broken, violent and oppressive. It needs to be turned on its head.
Jesus did just that. To an oppressed people group, the Messiah who was expected to come in power and wrath came in gentleness and vulnerability – heralding in a new kingdom, striking a crippling blow to the powers of empire. In the midst of a power-hungry, revenge-seeking, self-oriented world, he showed his disciples a more excellent way. Serving one another. Looking not to his own interests, but the interests of others. The king who rides a donkey, washes his disciples’ feet, lays aside his claim to equality with God and takes on the form of a servant. Who lifts up the low, loves the unlovable, empowers the disempowered, restores the outcast to society. Who trumps the powers and principalities of this world by stretching out his arms and surrendering his life. An unexpected subversive strategy of non-violent submission, radical and revolutionary, inverting the way of power and overcoming with the way of love.
The story doesn’t end at the cross – or even at the empty tomb. The centre of Jesus’ strategy was modelling the way of love to a small group of followers, who would model and pass it on to more followers, creating a network to spread through the world like yeast through dough – small in size but significant in impact – to undermine the coercive nature of human relationships, undo the way of power, and reconcile the world to God. Just as Jesus embodied the loving relationship of the Godhead, his church is called to embody the way of love, submitting ourselves to God and to one another, and presenting a real and living alternative to the way of power.