Christ’s revolution of love
As we celebrate Easter today, we ponder on what the resurrection of Christ really meant for each of us and the whole human civilization. Under the brutal hands of the ancient Romans, Christ went through the worst torture by being crucified on the cross. But, according to the Bible, he rose from the dead and went to heaven with the promise of salvation and eternal life for all.
Well, this sounds like another religious cliche. But looking back through those times, when much of the Western world was part of the Roman Empire, the narrative of Christ’s extreme self-sacrifice and his teaching that to love God is to do the same act of selflessness for others, specially the least among us, it was actually a radical idea that contrasted sharply to the kind of culture dominant at the time.
To recall, the ancient Romans, who were largely pagans, distinguished themselves as enlightened rational human beings from others who are mere “barbarians” not too different from animals. Following the ancient Greeks, whom they dominated and yet imitated, the ancient Romans took it upon themselves as their destined role to civilize the rest of the world. This they tried to achieve ironically by force and violence. And the Romans, though decades of combat experience, were great military strategists that were first to turn preparations for war into a massive industry.
But ruling the world proved to be a much more difficult task than the Romans first imagined. They did not know what to do with the thousands of captive enemies. Aside from turning the barbarians into slaves, the Romans also used them for entertainment, watching them kill each other brutally in gladiator fights at the Colosseum.
So what began as an early form of Hellenistic humanism degenerated into a hedonistic violent culture that looks at the non-Romans as savages not worthy of humane treatment at all. It was in this context that we look at the crucifixion as a public spectacle during Christ’s time. The Romans loved to display their brutality, perhaps to scare the public, particularly the Jews, into further subjugation. Public executions of criminals and dissidents were seen as an important deterrence back then as they are today.
But precisely because Christ’s doctrine of universal love, which commands that we extend that love to those we despise and even consider as enemies in an extreme act of humility and selflessness, is so opposite to the corrupted values of the both the pagan Romans and the Jews at that time that it was also very attractive and infectious. The Jews, believing that they were the only chosen people, distinguished themselves from the gentiles which they hated. In this sense, they were like the pagan Romans.
Christ, however, preached that God’s love is for all and that each of us, being God’s children, has inherent dignity. He left it to the apostles to continue this dangerous task of spreading the subversive idea of universal love to the entire Roman Empire and the rest of the world. The early Christians continued evangelization in the secret catacombs that were expanding beneath the city of Rome and even doing it above ground, risking their lives as dissidents hunted by the authorities.
Eventually, the whole might of the Roman Empire would be no match to the power of the revolution of love waged by the underground Church. Soon, even the Emperor Constantine the Great would profess his own conversion to Christianity, adopting it officially as state religion. Thus, began the great reversal as Rome now became the champion of Christian faith. The primordial goal of the Empire to civilize the world is now seen in the light of Christian love.
Yet, it wasn’t all innocent as the task undertaken by the newly recognized church was not without its own tragic flaws or “sins” that continue to this day. That is all part of the human character of the Church, of course, which is bound to be imperfect and plagued by betrayals.
But Christ’s doctrine of universal love, of selfless compassion for the underprivileged, soon had a strong influence on Western thought. The idea that every person is loved by God and thus deserves respect and dignity compelled Christians to develop societies that institutionalized welfare and protection of the poor and underprivileged. The doctrine of charity led to the development of the notions of human rights and equality. The idea of inherent human dignity as basis of universal rights could be traced to Christ’s doctrine of love for all.
Jesus went through torture and died on the cross out of his love for each human being whom he promised salvation being equal in the eyes of God. As he suffered torture and was dying on the cross, he was mocked and humiliated by his own people who even chose to free a criminal instead of him when Pilate promised to pardon one of them. Christ was a victim of state persecution.
Today, the Passion and Resurrection of Christ should remind us of the suffering and persecution that millions of people are being subjected to. Innocent civilians continue to die from hunger, persecution and war in places like Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, and North Korea. Authoritarian governments, which persecute dissidents and trample on the rights of their citizens, are on the rise around the world. We don’t have to look far as we see that happening in our own nation, which prides itself ironically as a beacon of Christian faith in this part of the world.
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