FOR us today, the word radical has largely lost its edge. Certainly, the external elements, or the ``style,'' of the radicalism of one epoch can become pass'e in the next. In contemporary society nothing seems to shock us for long. Yet the real meaning of radical goes deeper than iconoclastic extremism. Radical means going to the root, getting down to essentials. People who get down to essentials and stay with them -- no matter what the changes in social and cultural fashions -- are and remain radical. The total dedication to nonviolent social change of Martin Luther King, Jr., and of Mohandas Gandhi; the selfless devotion to the advancement of human rights of Eleanor Roosevelt -- these are examples of the radicalism that endures.
Why does such radicalism endure? Because it is rooted in something that endures. Because it expresses the only thing that is permanently radical, the living power of God, who is Love itself.
Unquestionably, the most radical individual who ever lived was Christ Jesus. Without political authority, he filled a place in history unequaled by any other. Not by force of personality nor by writings bequeathed to later generations but by his supreme example of the power of Love.
In this, Jesus' teaching and life were one. Nothing outside of his own life gives us as vivid a portrayal of the meaning of radical loving as do his own parables. Take the parable of the good Samaritan. The term ``good Samaritan'' has come into common use as a name for someone who does good deeds. But the parable's original impact was far more radical.
For Jesus' audience, a Samaritan was a foreigner and stranger, an unclean person. Yet it is a Samaritan who stops to give aid to the unfortunate man who is beaten by robbers and left for dead -- not the clergyman or the member of his own caste, both of whom passed by ignoring him. Really to get the shock value of the story, we might imagine a business traveler mugged on city streets. A local minister and an officer of a corporation pass by without a look. Then a homeless street person, without status in society, binds the traveler's wounds and finds a place for him to rest.
What the parable says to us is exactly what Jesus' own life of radical love says: caste, class, race, gender -- none of these matter. What matters is that the work of love be done.
The test of all acts is, Do they measure up to this demand? For love is what counts, immediately and ultimately.
The true radical, it can be said, is someone who understands this, who grasps and is grasped by the Biblical declaration ``God is love.''1 The statement is so familiar that we scarcely remember how radical it is. The words of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, help bring this statement home: ```God is Love.' More than this we cannot ask, higher we cannot look, farther we cannot go.''2
To be true to this statement is to be truly radical. The only complete example of this radicalism is Jesus' life: his unfeigned love of others, his acute gauging of their needs, his ability to respond to these needs through the reflected love of God.
To be his disciples today means to learn step by step what loving in this way demands. The most genuine Christian is the most genuine radical, the one who, beyond prejudice and personality, sees others as God sees them, as His beloved children, always worthy of His love. This is the radicalism that endures.
1I John 4:8. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 6.