When Lennon, McCartney AND Jesus agree…

Even the Beatles knew the truth. “All you need is love” – written and first performed in the summer of 1967 – was hardly a poetic masterpiece. It was a product of the times – civil rights demonstrations and international tensions were dominating the news. Groups like the Beatles had a platform to promote “peace love and grooviness”, and they did – when they weren’t promoting themselves. There were those who believed that art could promote change, and so artists like John Lennon considered themselves revolutionaries of a sort…but does a revolutionary promote LOVE?

The simple answer is YES. Love is still a revolutionary concept – especially as it is applied to public policy and international relations – it was revolutionary in 1967, and it was revolutionary when Jesus invoked love as the centuries-old cornerstone of Mosaic Law. The question that draws Jesus into conversation is, of course, a trap. “Which commandment in the law is greatest?” they ask; hardly an innocent matter – they either want to prove Jesus does not honour the law, or they think he might be weak in his interpretation of it. But Jesus silences them (for the moment) with his answer. It is in line with common teaching – it is an inspired response, with echoes of the Shema that section of Deuteronomy recited daily by observant Jews – and it pushes mainline thinking to new heights of observance. It is revolutionary.

There are other ways to spark a revolution. Actions, both distant and local, have been the focal point of revolutions in very recent times; the occupy movements; the current wave of student protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan; petitions promoting changes to health care, or holding environmental concerns before the public eye. Then there are the armed insurrections – some which rouse our sympathy – others, our condemnation. We don’t have to be involved in any of these to realize that there is a strong desire for change – social, political, economic and yes, religious – in every corner of the world. And Jesus still speaks to that revolutionary spirit with his brilliant distillation of centuries of interpretation and application of the law of Moses.

Love God – love your neighbour as yourself – these two activities open the whole of the history of the people of God to us, and it is the history of the failure to love. The path suggested by Jesus is a bold and dangerous path, because it does not presume that your neighbour feels the same way, or follows the same rules, or even wants to be loved. It is a practice of faith that needs no special envoys, or security measures, or even a common language. Love God – that is perhaps the most difficult step, but Jesus speaks to a group who know God, who have studied Scripture and been blessed in worship and in hardship. Loving God is easier when you have that history and tradition and understanding of who God is and what God has promised for creation. Love God has even made it into our modern catechism – and I’ll confess that it takes some work and study and effort – but love neighbour as you love yourself – we should have no difficulty with this.

This is what makes Jesus’ thought revolutionary – to imagine that the person I don’t know, or can’t understand might be as worthy as myself; as an object of love, respect – as vulnerable – as frightened – to “put myself in someone else’s shoes”, as we say, is to completely undermine any “us against them” arguments when cultures or ideas come into conflict. It is the act of loving neighbour that keeps us from desperate measures, even when our hearts are broken. We need to act in love as we respond to the horrifying events of this past week – love for the slain and their families, but also for those who carried out these horrible crimes. These were the acts of those who did not understand the principals of love – I say this, not as a flower child who was born too late, but as a witness to the gospel that declares love to be more powerful that death; even the horrifying and public death of Jesus of Nazareth.

We are wounded, and frightened, and angry in the wake of the deaths of two soldiers in what should have been non-hazardous situations. The level of emotion and debate about “our freedom” has been strange and intense in a country that has long assumed freedom as a natural state. But our natural state is not connected to the flag we fly, or the anthem we sing; we are, Scripture tells us, created in the image of God, whose nature is love – and we are called to remember that by Jesus even in the midst of madness, hatred and global instability.

For the record, I don’t believe that the deaths of two soldiers in isolated incidents constitute terrorist acts, though certainly they were each terrible and horrifying in their own way. These are acts of hatred; acts of violence, and our response needs to be carefully considered within the bounds of existing criminal law.

But I also believe that the law made complete in Jesus Christ must be brought to bear as we seek to move beyond our horror. Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself – the invitation to act in love is especially welcome to those whose lives have been touched by sorrow and grief. It is time for a revolution of love, and I pray that the love of Christ might guide our steps, in this and in every circumstance. Praise God for the gift of love that has found us in Jesus Christ. 

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