Loving Power and Powering Love
June 7, 2020
Matthew 28:16–20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Today’s passage is timely for Americans watching unrest across the country. In this passage, Matthew completes the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In it he notes that Jesus shares his authority to those who will carry on his work. Sharing God’s power, Jesus directs people to take up his mission to extend the gracious, life-giving reign of God across the world.
During this past week, we have been shown again that the struggle for sharing power is a long-standing issue in American life.
Think back. Two hundred years ago there were people who considered owning land and people signs and validation of power. Even after Americans fought a war against each other over the issue of slavery, steps toward sharing power have been slow and incremental. First white women were given the power of voting; later African Americans would be granted the same.
While we’ve watched the latest protests, the entire world has been reminded how far we have yet to come in sharing power.
What has never occurred in our country’s history has been a resolution of the question of power and how citizens wield it over each other. What does it mean for some to have more power and others less? What does it mean to be a police officer, parent, voter, soldier, or even President of the United States?
Too often power is a zero-sum game. With increasing ferocity, this has become evident in our politics. Someone wins and someone loses. Victory must absolute so one party can assume power over the other.
We have seen countless examples of power seducing people. However, power can also be transformative, but only if suffused with love.
Today, churches across the world focus on Jesus final words in the Gospel of Matthew. He is giving them final instructions for how to carry on in a world littered with suffering. (see **Matthew 24:1–14 at end).
Jesus’ final instructions are: “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (v18–20)
When Jesus claims “all authority” it is not of his own making or self-assessment, but rather because God has given him this authority. You see Jesus knows authority is a gift. When he tells his followers to go out with that authority, it never becomes their own. It always belongs to Jesus.
After all, the aim of the authority is for what? To win? To dominate and control? Not at all. The authority that Jesus commands and shares with his disciples is generative: for the aim of “teaching people everything that I have commanded you.”
Earlier, Matthew records Jesus foundational teaching in what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus teaches saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Jesus lays out a radical litany of reversal for those who conceive of power as something to be possessed and wielded. Jesus says the powerful are not really the powerful. He turns things up-side down! The weak are powerful in Christ. The comfortable are not blessed; such blessing belongs to the persecuted. Poverty in spirit is a prerequisite for the kingdom of heaven.
The authority Jesus inherits is not coercive, demanding, boisterous or loud. Rather, the Bible teaches us that His power settles into the margins of our world and makes its home in those deserted places most of us choose to avoid. His authority empowers those who are poor, broken, disregarded. His authority blesses the powerless. Jesus’s power is not at all what we seem to imagine power is.
There is a basic teaching for us right here. The key ingredient of the right use of power is not about being right. It is not about being the best deal maker. It is not being the smartest person in the group. It is not about charisma. It is not about self-aggrandizement.
Power, rightly used, is about trust. The exercise of power is to be a humbling matter for the sake of the other, our neighbor, as Jesus often spoke.
Nearly all of us hold great power in our hands. Whether in our professions, in our everyday lives or even in the ballot box, we hold power. For Christians that power must be directed toward our neighbor. The power we hold can misshape us. We might even deceive ourselves to believe that power grants us license to act as we please for our own sake.
But Jesus has called us to a different exercise of power. He destabilizes what we think power is.
Jesus’s “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 is not a call to domination. It does not grant us power for our own pursuits. This power will never be our own. Rather, Jesus calls us to trust in God’s power, and God’s creative bending of the world towards justice. Now before you get tripped up into thinking justice in a law and order sense, stop. God’s justice is always seen in love — the kind of love that calls us to act for the sake of our neighbor, especially the poor, broken and disregarded.
When we love power in this way, God graciously unwinds a twisted world and sets right a world that has stopped making sense to may.
May you be powered to love widely this week. Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share this post with others.
**Matthew 24:1–14 As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’