Power is a seductive, exciting, possibility. Each of us, generally has power in some or most aspects of our lives. Apart from those who are abused, where each moment of their life is controlled by another through fear and violence; we can make decisions, choose our responses, understand and reflect on what we’re doing and why.
However, our capacity to wilfully and deliberately choose not to do so is also remarkable.
We choose to work with those we love to achieve a shared goal. We choose to put our own desires to one side so someone we love can achieve a goal they desire.
However, we often overwhelm others with our desires, shutting out their wishes to achieve our own goals.
I don’t know if you think about power and your individual capacity to help or damage others by your exercise of power.
Our patterns of behaviour and thinking, often with practices and thought-patterns acquired over a lifetime, are so ingrained we know longer bother to check or change our behaviours.
I’d like you to remember this while we explore Mark’s short description of two conversations Jesus had with his disciples; one about his death and resurrection, and the other about greatness, power and prestige (Mark 9:30-37).
Jesus’ description of his impending betrayal, suffering, torture, death and resurrection does not make any sense to them. It’s a very short sentence: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (Mark 9:31)
The disciples did not respond. We’re told they didn’t understand and were too afraid to ask.
Jesus and his disciples are journeying to Galilee on their way to Jerusalem. And rather than listen to Jesus and his confronting warning of his death and resurrection, the disciples choose instead to focus on greatness and power, status and image.
Who will be the greatest; and, a few verses later in Mark, who will sit at Jesus’ side when he comes into his kingdom? (Mark 10:37).
Jesus’ response to their avoidance is prompt and clear. It gives us a very clear alternative to how we see and experience power and greatness today.
Let’s not forget Jesus has chosen disciples who betray, flee and deny him throughout his ministry. Instead, Jesus shows humility and a way of living through serving in a very dangerous world that is not recognised, accepted or valued.
I think our responses do the same. We tend to avoid thinking about Jesus’ death and it’s implications for our living in a number of ways.
Most obvious is the preference to serve from a position of power; and the other is a refusal to understand the way of suffering. Instead we seek spiritual peace beside still waters that will lead us home as our right and entitlement because we’ve earned it.
Mark reveals the resurrected Christ will not change the future as the disciples and we, hope he would.
He will not overthrow the Romans and set up a new Jerusalem. He will not reign politically and will not delegate to them prime posts for reward for service. So, what will he expect of them and what will they do?
In the world the disciples knew, and it is the same one we know, the strong oppress the weak. Consequently, giving up status, power, greatness and privilege makes them anxious, afraid and refusing to listen and accept.
I think this is our response too.
Even though Christianity has spread through the extraordinary examples of ordinary women and men finding and living Jesus’ way, it became over time, a religion of the powerful. Perhaps this is why the church, and you and I, are not living as though death has been defeated? We are not living as resurrected people.
In this wealthy and powerful country where thousands suffer hunger, homelessness, abuse, discrimination and no welcome, the church seems more intent on saving its own life rather than risking its life to follow a living Lord.
In this country where we pride ourselves on living in a democracy and boast about our Christian culture, we live in ways to promote our greatness and entrench our privilege rather than risking our lives to follow Jesus.
Although we are not routinely martyred in the West and the gospel is international, what are we avoiding? It can’t be persecution. I think we are resisting giving up our way of life, our privileges and entitlements, our position in our society, to secure our future, which we believe can be done only through success and wealth, and so our fear is tied to our affluence.
Jesus did not live a life of prosperity or affluence. He did not die in bed peacefully and comfortably of old age.
We confess he is risen, but we live as if that is not extraordinary or in any way important to us and that it is somehow inappropriate for us in today’s world. Our faith is handicapped by our fear.
And we do know the Gospel brings misunderstandings, rejection, and sometimes a cross. A witness for justice or peace is often met with violence, rejection or death by us as well as the wider community.
I think about the way people are treated who work for those shut in our Australian concentration camps and the vindictive and cruel discussions about refugees; I think about the way we deal with child abuse and our refusal to change habits; of domestic violence and the ongoing, daily deaths of women in Australia which receives no attention; of gender abuse; of the way we treat people of other races; the way we turn on those who are unemployed and poor and blame them; how we refuse to see any connection between our treatment of God’s creation and the death and destruction we are deliberately handing onto our smaller neighbours, our children and the farmers around the world; how we blame, reject and do not welcome any who do not fit.
No wonder Jesus was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.
Many of the world’s outcasts work hard, and yet remain poor.
This is because of our determination to ensure there are many structural and ideological forces in between them and their goals preventing understanding, courage and transformation because this will disturb our world.
Jesus offers hope by talking of his resurrection.
Resurrection becomes the power of God in solidarity with the oppressed and exploited.
And when Jesus talks about greatness and power, he turns to the example of the small child and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37).
We are willing to serve but only from a position of power. We are willing to minister as long as we are in charge and remaining in our comfort zone.
The oppressed and suffering in our world are like children, extremely vulnerable, struggling, broken, lost, doing what must be done to survive.
We would prefer to silence their voices, close the doors of the church and our country, exclude them by neglect, ignoring, avoiding, rejecting, scapegoating and standing on our own dignity and rights. Our privilege and entitlement come first.
Jesus silences his disciples by giving an extraordinary, subversive image. In talking to the men around him who have been arguing about status and power, he points to the need for child-minding and caring for the most vulnerable, oppressed, rejected and hated. He shows the importance of welcoming, celebrating child empowerment, and making children the most important in our world, not the least; not owned, not controlled, not silent and not commodified. These children represent all the most vulnerable in our world.
Welcoming becomes one of the most critical aspects of our discipleship and exercise of power. A very different power which is not abusive authority, control, violence and coercion.
Jesus points to his way of being in the world with God through serving the most vulnerable and needy in our society.
Jesus was right in front of the disciples, but they still did not understand him or his ministry.
Jesus calls us not to compete for power and status, but for humble welcoming service to the world and in the world.
Our commitment to Jesus and God is best shown by welcoming all God’s children, the most vulnerable members of our society and across the world; and this is sacrificial, dangerous, demanding work. It will be unnoticed, unrewarded, and criticised. It will be hard and challenging.
It will be done through faith, prayer and hope from the resurrection. It will be made possible by following Jesus.
The Lord be with you.