Jesus & power

Written by on April 11, 2011

One of the central surprises within the biblical testimony is the way Jesus’ life expresses God’s power and authority. In many ways, Jesus turns all 1st century understandings of authority on their head. The “but not so with you” (Luke 22:26) of his teaching and his life offended many and shocked everyone. Most who were looking for a messiah in 1stcentury Israel were expecting God’s power to be expressed in unmistakably commanding terms, the sort of power that would overtly overturn empires, and establish once-and-for-all justice with Israel’s vindication and restoration. But Jesus’ life and ministry offered a radically alternative vision of God’s authority. In particular, his death and resurrection would express power in a profoundly new and influential way – the way of the suffering servant, the way of the cross. In a recent book entitled To Change The World sociologist James Davison Hunter writes of Jesus,

“Everything about his life, his teaching, and his death was a demonstration of a different kind of power—not just in relation to the spiritual realm and not just in relation to the ruling political authorities, but in the ordinary social dynamics of everyday life. It operated in complete obedience to God the Father, it repudiated the symbolic trappings of elitism, it manifested compassion concretely out of a calling and vocation, and it served the good of all and not just the good of the community of faith. In short, in contrast to the kingdoms of this world, his kingdom manifests the power to bless, unburden, serve, heal, mend, restore, and liberate. “What follows is clear: as ones who accept his invitation into his kingdom, Christians must follow him.”[1]

Hunter summarizes Jesus use of social power with four characteristics:

  1. Jesus power is derivative– rooted in and intimacy & submission to the Father.
  2. Jesus power is humble– rejecting the privileges of status & reputation.
  3. Jesus power is compassionate– serving the good of all not just the good of faith communities.
  4. Jesus power is noncoercive – blessing rather than cursing the other.[2]

Hunter then goes on to ask, “What does this mean for Christians who want to engage the world for good?” He continues,

“In our day, Christians have not only embraced strategies that are incapable of bringing about the ends to which they aspire, they have also embraced strategies that are deeply problematic, shortsighted, and at times, profoundly corrupted. If the flourishing of Christian faith and its cultures depends on a model of power that derives from Christ’s life and teaching, what does this look like in practice?”

I wonder whether you might let this question of practice intersect in your mind with a reflection upon your unique sphere of influence. What are you discovering about Jesus “but not so with you” words (Luke 22:26) in your context? Where might Hunter’s characteristics of Jesus’ exercise of power stretch and challenge you in your work and relationships and influence?

[1] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, (Oxford University Press, 2010), 193.
[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/may/16.33.html

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