“But Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.'”
“Na-na-na-nah-nah!” The old schoolyard taunt has been echoing in my ears this week, as the new US administrtion produced a record number of first week executive orders. A friend of mine from the Order of St. Luke, a religious organization to which I belong, emailed me this week. He is from Canada, and he asked with some degree of disbelief if this was all legal. “Can the US president make laws without going through Congress?” he asked.
TV commentators from the pro-Trump side reminded listeners that these were all things Trump said during the campaign that he would do if elected. And now he has been elected, and he is following through on camapaign promises. But I have to admit, the speed with which he is turning out executive orders – a new record for the number of orders signed during the first week, almost feels like the schoolyard taunt. “Na-na, look what I can do!” He’s got the power and he’s gonna use it!
The Gospel lesson from Luke reminds us that the purpose of power is not to “lord it over” others, but to serve them. Thomas R. Hawkins, a contemporary writer on Christian leadership, distinguishes between “power over” and “power with.” Jesus certainly exercised power, but it was not power over; for him, power was exercised with and for, not over. He mentored and taught his disciples, not lording it over them, not demanding. He chose humility over pride and self-sacrifice over self-aggrandizement.
In the Gospel of John, Pilate is considering whether or not to order Jesus’ crucifixion. He warns Jesus that he, Pilate, has power over Jesus. But Jesus responds, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:11) That warning reaches much farther than ancient Palestine. It suggests that power, political or otherwise, is not an excuse acceptable to God for actions that contradict God’s mission. Time and agian the Bible tells us what is expected of us: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8); to witness by our lives to Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8); to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and care for the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46). The Bible is adamant in its call for leaders to exercise justice with mercy, to seek righteousness with compassion, and to care for the least. This is the purpose of power – to do God’s work of love and justice, to work with God for the good of the people. In both Old and New Testaments, God calls for leaders who will care for the people – all of the people, not just those who are well off or fromthe right party or belief set.
As we move forward with a new administration, let us offer our prayers for our nation and its leaders, but let’s also demand accountability, and direct our leaders to exercise power with not power over, power that supports not power that undermines, and power that seeks to work for the good of all the people.
Prayer: Almighty God, from whom comes all power and authority, I pray today that you will work in the hearts of leaders everywhere to teach them to use their power in ways that build up, not tear down. May they exercise power for the good of all the people they govern, not just the few, not just those who agree with them. Help leaders to care for the sick, to lift up the downtrodden, to bind up wounds caused by intemperate campaign language. Let those who hold power use it to serve and to support as Christ taught his followers to use the power you granted them. All for the sake of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.