Power Play


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, 1 Samuel 11:1-15, Acts 8:1b-13, Luke 22:63-71

After Saul was appointed by God through Samuel to be king, one of his first acts was to end the oppression of Nahash the Ammonite who had been terrorizing Israel by gouging out the right eyes of everyone who did not escape. After Saul defeated and scattered the Ammonites, the people called for the deaths of those who had initially opposed his reign. Saul declined, demonstrating he could be merciful in his power. Many years later, taking power for granted, Saul would become petty enough to maneuver David (of “versus Goliath” fame) into life-threatening situations for becoming too popular. Yet in the moment, and for many years afterward, he was a benevolent ruler who ruled wisely.

Centuries later another Saul, who would become the apostle Paul, used his power to persecute Christians because they represented a threat to the stability of the Jewish people under Roman occupation. This Saul’s power was fueled largely by a sense of righteousness, but somehow his dedication to serving his God did not translate into mercy until he was suddenly brought low.

After Jesus was arrested and brought before the council, they asked him if he was the Messiah. He replied “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer.” When pressed further he said, “You say that I am.” They took that as a confession of heresy. The council used their power to twist perceptions and definitions so the outcome – regardless of the facts – was to their liking.

Power, seen through the eyes of Christ, is more responsibility than privilege. Using power (no matter how limited) in petty and cruel ways, even against our opponents, does not reflect the message of the Gospel. Retaliation is both a poor substitute for justice and difficult to reconcile with turning the other cheek. When we find ourselves in positions of power –elected office, social status,  work hierarchy, family dynamics, etc. – let us pray for strength to show mercy and restraint.

How blessed we are to have a savior who shows us the true meaning and best use of power.

Additional Reading:
For more about today’s passage from Acts, see Written Off?.
For another take on today’s passage from Luke, see No-Win Scenario.

Comfort: Being merciful is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.

Challenge: In ways large and small, we can have the upper hand in many relationships. Reflect on whether how you wield power, when you have it, spreads the Gospel.

Prayer: God of power and mercy, give me a heart like Christ.

Discussion: Have you ever been surprised to find out you had more power than you expected?

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