To whom do we give power and glory?

Who gets to be first?!
September 22, 2023
The Story of the Wicked Landlords!
October 5, 2023
Who gets to be first?!
September 22, 2023
The Story of the Wicked Landlords!
October 5, 2023

Our obsession with power and control is frequently unhealthy.  We overimagine what we can do and underestimate the consequences.  The belief we can be invincible if we have enough money, positional authority and blackmailing or manipulative material, and our sheer hubris combined with verbal, physical and spiritual weaponry lead us to believe we can do whatever we want. 

Let’s think about this for a moment.  Empires come and go.  I myself am a child of a British Empire that no longer exists.  We are watching the rise and fall of several empires at the moment, killing people in their obsession.  We know the outcomes of war are never certain and the subsequent peace is never forever.  We work to ensure perpetrators of genocide and war crimes are eventually brought to justice.  There aren’t black holes in human history.  At some point, there will be a reckoning. Hatred and fear as a means of control, eventually lose their power, surplus powerlessness leads to uprisings when people have nothing to lose, and eventually tyrants and dictators with their supporters are held to account.   The moment of winning gives way to fear of loss and the consequences of past actions, taking short cuts, blaming others, following the herd, eventually means we learn a diet of hate and shame shrivels our souls and kills us.  

We always have a choice.  A choice which is not built on shame and honour, power and control, but built on God and God’s love, of which there is more than enough for everyone for us to share abundantly. 

Jesus is constantly challenged by a persistent group of people who believe themselves to be powerful, the chief priests and elders of the people in the temple where he was teaching.  Once again, they challenge (Matt. 21:23-32) the basis of his power and authority.  Jesus directly questions their understanding of the basis on which their power exists.  Who are they relying on for their positional power?  Themselves, their supporters, the institutions and empire, or God?  No wonder they were angry, frightened, feeling dishonoured and shamed.  It was a deeply unquestioning cultural response in the story.

Yet, Jesus’ story, his life and ministry, show us when people who imagine they are powerful, fear they are under threat of losing their power; when their privileges and influence over others are challenged, they react with violence.  In the encounters with the powerful Jerusalem religious authorities and the Roman empire, the ‘establishment’, the visibility of the threat is never far away.

So often when faced with such pressure, we give way to fear and terror, whether we are the ones with power, as in our current national discussions where we imagine we are going to be disadvantaged or somehow have less power, or if we believe we are the ones without power and having to fight for ‘our rights’. 

Jesus cuts through such fears.  He refuses to manipulate those who have taken offence at him, or force them to his way of thinking.  He reminds his followers, ‘not to be afraid’.  God is with us.  (Matt. 14:27; 17:7; 28:10). Understanding this truth in our hearts, minds and souls, means we acknowledge honestly, as human beings that fear is a problem for us all. 

And we can remember with gratitude, God is always loving and faithful; consequently we do not need to be afraid.

Demanding authority and respect out of fear is never as satisfactory and life-changing as authority given from God, based on love.  Such loving authority is subversive in the world and challenges our worldly notions of leadership and power. It makes enemies.  It can kill us.  It killed Jesus.  Just as we are killing others.

In this conversation with his religious leaders, Jesus told the story of two sons, who both did the opposite of what they promised to their father.  One said he wouldn’t work in the field but changed his mind and did so.  The other son, said he would work in the field as his father asked, but chose not to do so.   The chief priests and elders, in response to Jesus’ question, ‘what do you think?  Who did the will of his father?’, identified the first son as the one who did the father’s will. 

By this direct analogy, Jesus points out the tax collectors and prostitutes will be the ones first into the kingdom, it is the chief priests and elders who are like the second son, who have said something which sounds good, honouring the father to his face, but has then done something else, which is deceitful, unethical and shameful.  In fact, both sons have done wrong, one in word and the other in deed. Both have fallen short and sinned.

As Christians, we are called to be witnesses to the truth.  Truth calls for fearlessness and courage, and if we don’t practice this on a regular basis, we will lose heart and capacity and find ourselves questioning God.  In a world where there is more than enough moral failing and refusal to hear God, are there any of us who can be called righteous?  In the end, what Jesus shows us, is it is those who have done their best to follow God and share God’s love who are righteous. 

What expresses the will of God, according to this story, is not our history of righteous deeds but rather our embrace of repentance and our need for mercy.  Like the first son, the prostitute and the tax collector, those who turn away from God find they need mercy after all.  What matters for kingdom life is our own recognition of our vulnerability and a need for repentance and forgiveness.

Jesus spells out the metaphor: the place of honour in God’s kingdom will be given to those who presently occupy places of shame but who do God’s will, while the religiously righteous, who aren’t listening, learning or loving, will bring up the rear.

An I wonder if I went searching into the lives of our churches would it reveal more of a second son culture than we might admit.   We are a group of people who sometimes profess one thing and do another.  Too much of our church work is institutional maintenance, serving our own needs first and serving others with the leftovers.  The urgent, edgy grace of the Jesus community fades into a warm place to belong.  A warm gathering of second sons is not an unpleasant place to be.  It just isn’t the kingdom of God.

So let us think about God’s authority, God’s power and God’s love and not be afraid. The Lord be with you.

Reference     Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds].  2014.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew Vol.2.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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