By Joshua Adam Scott
We have an addiction to power.
The “we” here is fluid; you can plug in many different words into that placeholder and it will still be a true statement.
Americans have an addiction to power.
Christians have an addiction to power.
Politicians have an addiction to power.
See? It works.
This addiction leads to lots of problems, both for our society and us. It causes us to ignore the cries of the oppressed and impoverished. It causes us to be harsh and cruel with those who challenge our power and privilege. It causes us to blame the victims, and not the victimizers (because they share our power). This addiction causes us to resist calls for justice and equality, because we fear it will somehow diminish our place of dominance.
We have an addiction to power, and like all addiction, it’s killing us.
This current election cycle has, once again, exposed our habit. We can see its hooks in us, particularly when we start talking about “strength.” See, everyone wants to appear strong. And to do so, you need displays of strength.
we belittle those who seem weak or different,
we speak harshly and condescendingly to those with whom we disagree,
we use our place of privilege to demean and debase those who don’t have access to power.
We have an addiction to power, to shows of dominance and strength.
Once, when Jesus and his disciples were on a journey, he overheard them arguing about which of them would be greatest, strongest, first. Notice his response:
They entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about during the journey?” They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said,“Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”
Mark 9v33-37, CEB
Children, in the ancient world, had less sentimental value than today; children were the epitome of powerlessness. They had no realm over which they could assert dominance or control. They were innocent, vulnerable, and the bottom of the food chain. Yet, Jesus says to his disciples then, and to us now, that to experience the life of the Kingdom is to become like a little child.
In Luke’s gospel a similar scene occurs during the “Last Supper.”
An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest. But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. Luke 22v24-26, CEB
Jesus explicitly and specifically calls his followers to an upside down relationship to power. For Jesus, true power, real strength, is displayed in compassion, service, generosity…essentially, love. Greatness is not about being at the top of the ladder and proudly looking down on those whom we have passed on the way up. True greatness is about lifting up the oppressed and marginalized. It’s about binding the wounds of victims, while seeking justice on their behalf. In the words of a song my friend Heatherlynwrote, “True power is love.”
Only from this vantage point do Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12 make sense:
So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.
2 Corinthians 12v9-10, CEB
Weakness is strength?
Power through vulnerability?
It’s counterintuitive, but Jesus says this is what life in the reality and flow of God is like.
So, if compassion and generosity, love and grace, kindness and empathy are seen as weaknesses in our culture of politics and power, then may we echo the words of Paul.
May we celebrate such weakness, because it is true strength, true power.
Josh began vocational ministry in 1997, and has been on staff at MCC since March 2005. Shortly after moving to Morgantown he married Carla, and they have an amazing son, Cohen. Josh has an MA in Religious Studies from Western Kentucky University, and he also has a B.A. from Eastern Kentucky University. In addition, he teaches religion courses at both Western Kentucky University and SKY KCTCS. Some of his favorite things are: spending time with his family, watching The Office, drinking good coffee, and cheering for the West Virginia University football team. You can follow his thoughts on his blog.