Oneself as Another: The Fire and Revolution Entailed by Christian Ethics

If we are simply comfortable, we are not Christian.

Today's Mass readings hammer this home, with no mitigation.

Incorporation into Christ remakes one's most intimate sense of oneself--restructures self-consciousness within a new way of feeling oneself a body in the world, a person in the world (even unto Rousseau's sentiment of existence and Kant's transcendental unity of apperception).

Oneself as another, to borrow Ricoeur's phrase. To be in Christ is to-be-in-the-world in the fullness of consubstantial solidarity: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

We love ourselves, usually inordinately. Jesus counts on this basic reality: you SHALL love the others as you so automatically love yourself.

And when we obey the paradoxical command to love the other, our love of self is corrected--oneself as another, oneself as all the others.

To be Christian is to realize most radically, in body and soul, the fact that there is one body of humanity, and that we bleed when any other bleeds. And the politics of this fundamental axiom of Christian ethics is revolutionary. It is a fire, and Jesus wants it to burn. There is no mitigating the Word of the LORD:

"Thus says the LORD: 'You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.

"'If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.'"(Exodus 22:20-26)

It is right there, no wriggling out. If we are going to play gotcha with other people's politics, then we orthodox Christians will submit to the gotcha of these stern commands, which implicate everyone (right, left, and center): none of us has even begun to honor this revolution of love in our politics and economics and interpersonal actions--not in a culture of abortion and consumerism and obscene inequality and hardness towards the refugee.

Christian existence is fire and revolution. And that means it will cost us: "And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the Word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit" (I Thessalonians 1:6). None of the first evangelizers, and no authentic evangelist, ever mitigates the fact: receive the crucified Word, all joy is in it...and you will suffer in this world for that Word.

But be not afraid: Jesus, that Word of love, has overcome the world.