All over America these days we can see how the rich and mighty get around. Those who would like to lead us roar around the country on huge busses, with their names and faces emblazoned on the sides, ready to campaign in every city and town, shouting their messages, shaking their fingers into the cameras, promising to be “tougher,” to “never apologize,” to “keep America #1.” Our President flies in a special armored jet, the likes of which most of us will never see. He moves among crowds, but is always separated out by the secret service, a barrier that is both comforting and isolating. The days in which he or any president can be truly “of the people” are long gone.
It is no wonder most of us have an uneasy view of power. We are drawn to it (we want our leaders to be strong and, when necessary, tough), and we distrust it (how many more stories of financial and sexual betrayals can we stand to hear about our elected officials?). The old adage about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely, has proven true too many times. So, like moths to the flame, we flit around the edges of power, excited by the heat but wary of the burn.
And then there is Jesus. When people sometimes ask me why I am a Christian, I think of Jesus and how he lived out a completely different understanding of power. This Sunday is Palm Sunday, and if we are willing to really look, we can see the difference in how Jesus understood and used his power. We remember the story of him riding into town on a donkey, not a chariot. Crowds gathered and shouted accolades, but even in the midst of the parade, something was different.
“As he made his entrance in to Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, ‘What’s going on here? Who is this?’”
(Matt. 21:10, The Message)
They were unnerved because Jesus’ script about power was completely different than anything they had seen – or much of what we see today. His was a power rooted in humility: he always pointed away from himself to God and the greater good. He did not establish a monument to himself or his own ego. He did not ask that he receive special privileges or honors. Whatever personal influence he had he used to protect the poor and to turn our hearts toward Compassion. The verses immediately preceding and following the Palm Sunday story show us what kind of power he believed in. Just before he entered Jerusalem, he passed two blind men on the road. Though the crowd was impatient for his attention, he stopped and spoke with the men and healed them. (Matt 20:29-31) Immediately following the parade, he went to the temple, where he exercised his power by overturning the money tables. Not to make a scene or to seem tough, but because he wanted to make room for “the blind and cripples to get in.” (Matt. 21:14).
I am a Christian because Jesus’ power makes sense to me. I follow his teachings because I trust a power rooted in humility far more than I will ever trust the power of money or prestige or political ideology or guns. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor.” He taught us, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my people, you do for me.” And finally, when crowds offered him the kind of power they understood, power over others, he never wavered from this core teaching: “If anyone wants to be first, he or she must be the very last, the servant of all.” (Mark 9: 35). That’s the power of humility. When you get sick of the shouting on television and the radio, when you despair about the blatant hypocrisy of this political season, remember Jesus’ words about power. They are the call of our faith, the very grounding of our spirituality. They are the reason I choose to follow Jesus.