Once again, in today's gospel, from the tenth chapter of Mark, Jesus insists on a radically new understanding of power. It is not devoid of power—not simply the absence of power. Sometimes people confuse Jesus for that, as if to follow Jesus we need to become doormats. But I think that is a misreading of the gospel, which is not about being powerless. Rather, it is about unleashing the liberating power of God, which is never coercive power over others. It requires us to let go of the will to domination that seeks to control and to manipulate—or as the Biblical language puts it “to lord over others.”
Instead, Jesus calls us to choose power through. Power that comes through God’s Holy Spirit to raise up, to heal, to persuade. This is the power of one. This is the power of two or three people gathered together in Christ’s name to do justice and to love kindness and walk humbly with God. This is the power that helps us to discover that with God’s help we can do infinitely more than we could previously ask or imagine, as the risen Christ brings new life working through us. The power of Jesus is not about who gets access to power on the right or on the left, but about equipping and empowering all of God’s children through love.
Jesus has to keep saying this over and over again because we, his followers, are slow learners. And also, I think, because we spend six days a week out in the world where the messages we receive are about taking care of number one and getting ahead, and how there is no room for second place and how we need to hold on for dear life to what we worked so hard to get. And then on Sunday mornings we gather together to try to recall a little piece of an alternative vision about how to be in the world.
I have been haunted this week by a piece written by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times about his college roommate, who had no health insurance and died recently of prostate cancer. After telling this story, Kristof wrote a follow-up piece entitled "Scott's Story and the Election." In it he spoke about the “savagely unsympathetic” responses to the story, including one guy who wrote on Kristof’s blog:
Not sure why I’m to feel guilty about your friend’s problem. I take care of myself and mine, and I am not responsible for anyone else.
At some level I suspect that there is a small part of us all that may feel that way. But I hope and pray that it is a very small part, and that that we know it is not of our better angels. Even when we may disagree about how to best provide healthcare for all of God’s children (and we are all God’s children) we as Christians must never be devoid of compassion, which as Kristof points out is “not a sign of weakness but of civilization.” I would simply add that it also takes us to the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We come to worship to remember this, and to let it sink in. The world would harden our hearts, and tell us we have no neighbors. We come together on the Lord's Day to rediscover glad and generous hearts through the risen Christ that help us to see our neighbor through the eyes of love.
We gather to remember that as John recalls the events of the last night of his life, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples’ feet, doing the work of a slave, and commanding us who claim to love him to do one simple thing to show it: to love one another.
We come together week after week to remember who and whose we are—and to remember what it means to be a Church that is on the Way. As we see Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly we begin to live, always with God’s help, as Jesus taught us to live: with a servant’s heart.