Read Mark 10:35-45
Who are the really powerful people in the world?
How we answer that question will be influenced not only by our age, but also by our experiences and values. For example, if we aspire to high office, we may think in terms of presidents and politicians. If we are impressed with money and a flashy lifestyle, we may think of the rich and famous. If we are captivated by the entertainment industry, music stars or movie stars or famous athletes may come to mind. For most of us, our parents were once equated with power.
On the other hand, if you are a parent in need of food stamps to feed your family, you may consider those who run welfare programs as powerful.
And not only might we differ in our choices of who we consider to be powerful, we also kno that those who hold power are not all cut from the same cloth. Hitler was powerful but so was Gandhi. King Herod was powerful but so was Martin Luther King, Jr. In the world of Lord of the Rings wizardry, Saruman and Gandalf wielded their power in very different ways and for different reasons with different effect.
Psychologist and author Rollo May makes a helpful distinction between power over another and power for another. The one diminishes or even destroys life while the other enhances life. May explains that some use power to manipulate and exploit people, while others use it to nurture and even empower people.
Jesus lets us know that his two ambitious disciples were on the wrong track.
“Can we be members of your cabinet, Jesus? Can one of us be your Vice President, and the other your Secretary of State?
He bluntly told them that they did not know what they were asking. James and John were thinking that the kingdom of which Jesus spoke was a kind of kingdom in which those in power would wield it over others. They were asking to be the VIPs in this kingdom of their illusion. They fantasized themselves in high places. They were seeking thrones without realizing that the power that goes with following Jesus is more likely to produce a cross. In fact he told them as much.
The power they sought was the kind of power that diminishes others. The 19th-century European historian Lord Acton warned that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Acton was speaking of the kind of power that people wield over one another. We’ve seen it in the tragedy of child and spouse abuse. It sometimes happens in the workplace where power is sometimes used to harass and manipulate. We’ve seen it wherever we see violence, disrespect and the demeaning and humiliating others. These are those who fit the category to which Jesus referred when he said, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.” (10:42)
Sometimes we’ve seen it in ourselves. I can point to moments in my life where I’ve acted in ways that have been disrespectful of others.
The question Jesus would ask of us today is this: What kind of power do we seek and in what ways do we use it?
Reflect on the people of power in the New Testament world. There was Herod. There was Pilate. There were the scribes and the Pharisees. There were the self-appointed soldiers of God who banished the lepers, the blind, the poor and anyone who did not interpret God as they did. There were the soldiers who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus and of countless others.
And then there was Jesus. All but Jesus understood their power as a license to lord it over others, to manipulate and even exploit. Jesus epitomized his own understanding of power when he said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve. (Mark 10:43-45)
Jesus tells us that the truly powerful are those who enhance the lives of those around them. Famous people like Mother Teresa, not-so-famous people such as loving parents and grandparents, dedicated teachers and compassionate care-givers, are but a few examples. There are also those who speak up for justice, who defend the poor, the oppressed, or the victimized, and who stand up for what is right.
Recall those people whom you have known who have used their power to enhance our lives.
Today is called All Saints Sunday. We remember those who died, people deeply loved by God; and in whom we saw glimpses of the love of God.
• Perhaps a parent who was not known as a powerful person, but who cared for us with a powerful love;
• perhaps we were gifted with someone who used his or her power to boost our confidence and open doors for us.
• We may have had a spouse who powerfully enhanced our life.
• Or we may remember friends who inspired us and helped us and walked with us through difficult times.
Such memories, as we have today, bring tears, because we truly miss these people. And these memories give us an opportunity for gratitude.
But these memories also can help us realize that we, too, have power that we can use to enhance the lives of others. We too, can make a difference in the lives of others.
Jesus reminds his disciples, and us –
please repeat this after me –
True greatness is found in serving others.
There once was a great leader of the people who was very proud. One day he was walking through his village boasting,
“I am truly great. There is no one greater than me!”
A wise woman came up to the leader and said, “I know one who is truly great.” The great leader was surprised and then very angry. “What? Who is this great one? There is no one greater than me.!”
The wise woman said, “Come to my house tomorrow and I will introduce you to this great one.” The great leader said, “Very well. I will be there and we shall see who is the greatest.”
The leader went home and slept. He dreamt of a great sword fight where he defeated his opponents. In the morning he put on his finest clothing. As he did he reminded himself of all the great things he could do. “There is no one greater than me!” he repeated to himself as he walked over to the woman’s house.
When he reached the house he called out, “I am here. It is time. Where is this other great one?”
“Come in, come in.” the woman called.
When the leader entered the house he saw the woman sitting against the wall with a baby crawling on the floor beside her. The great leader looked around. There was no one else there. “Where is the great one you told me about yesterday?” he asked.
The woman motioned towards the baby and said, “This is the great one I told you about.”
The great leader was not amused. He yelled angrily at the woman and shook his finger at her. “What do you mean? Don’t try to trick me. This is just a baby!”
The baby frightened by the sudden loud, angry voice began to cry. The leader became flustered. He didn’t mean to make the baby cry. He forgot about his anger and got down on his hands and knees. He gently brushed the baby’s cheeks. He smiled at the baby. He pulled some keys out of his pocket, and jingled them in the baby’s ears. Gradually the baby stopped crying and began to listen and watch.
The woman smiled and said, “You see, even you, the great leader, had to stop talking to take care of the baby. In any home, in any village, the baby is truly great because even the greatest and most powerful leader, like you, must become the baby’s servant. This is how the creator planned it.”
And then the woman said something that sounded like Jesus’ words today. She said, “The creator did not make you great so that you could boast about your greatness. The Creator made you great so that you could help others who are not as strong as you.”
Jesus teaches us that the nature of true greatness is to use our power to serve others. May we be counted among those who follow in his way.
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