The Impotence of Power

Today’s readings:
Psalms 20; 147:1-1, Exodus 3:1-5, Hebrews 11:23-31, John 14:6-14

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

– Hebrews 11:24-25

Injustice demands reaction.

Do we pray about it? Discuss it with friends? Ignore it?

Or like Jesus and Moses, do we actively confront it?

Most approaches fall into one of two camps: working within the system, or working outside it. Depending upon the unjust “system” – which may be a government, church, business, or culture – our circumstances may determine which path is available to us. However, as a Hebrew adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter into the Egyptian ruling class, Moses had choices. He could have lamented but otherwise ignored injustice that didn’t affect him directly. He could have lived a comfortable “insider” life and used his influence with Pharaoh’s family to incrementally ease the injustice suffered by his people. Wisely, he chose to act as an outsider.

People in positions of power – boards, elected offices, etc. – often seek that power to change unjust systems. However, insiders can influence change only to the extent that those controlling the system will tolerate it. The more one works to change the system, the greater the risk of being ejected from it.

Even those uncorrupted by power frequently find themselves maneuvered into working to retain that power more than actually using it. The more they hold, the more reluctant they are to lose it. Can the rich and powerful promote justice? Only if it is more important to them than the wealth and power the possess. To truly use power to fight injustice, one must be willing to lose it completely.

What if we are on the outside? If we feel helpless because we lack institutional power, let’s look to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets as inspiration for the ability of outsiders to effect change. Having nothing freed them to say everything. Because they didn’t dedicate their resources to maintaining wealth and power, they could dedicate them to justice. Do our own attachments hinder our willingness to do justice?

Let’s remember, Moses had to descend from the mountain of power before he climbed the mountain of the Lord.

Comfort: You don’t have to be powerful to be full of power.

Challenge: List three ways you can influence the world around you.

Prayer: Merciful God, teach me to exercise power mercifully and for justice. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever solved a problem by giving up control?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 42; 146, Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Mark 9:42-50

In our current political climate, both left- and right-leaning Christians are working hard at shaping the law of the land to better resemble their idea of the Kingdom. Of course this shape is not clearly defined anywhere in scripture. Instead of definitions we get parables comparing it to everything from sumptuous banquets to lost sheep. So we have some Christians who want to impose more rules, some Christians who want to reduce discrimination against people who don’t follow those rules, and a whole lot in the middle left wondering how we can disagree so strongly.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, written from prison, he tells his young protégé not to be ashamed that the empire has jailed him, but to join him in suffering for the Gospel. He doesn’t tell Timothy to try to force the empire to change; rather he understands he resides in a Kingdom which is not defined by walls, laws, or empire. Neither he nor Timothy will submit to laws that run counter to the Gospel, and they understand there is a holy penalty to be paid for their behavior.

Are we Christians called to transform the world? If we are, we must do it like Paul did, by transforming ourselves into models of Christ, who submitted unto death. The empire’s tools of persuasion are the sword and spear, but we transform them into the plowshare and pruning hook: the threat of death versus the promise of life. Paul expanded the Kingdom without passing a single law or firing a single shot.

Jesus warned his disciples that once salt had lost its saltiness, it could not be seasoned again. We might have some small success seasoning the empire to align more with our tastes, but in the end we are a small ingredient caught up in a recipe for disaster. We can’t change the empire by force, and insisting on doing so eventually dilutes our essential identity.

We should be less concerned with whether we see the Kingdom when we look around, and more with whether strangers can see it when they look at us.

Comfort: We travel the Kingdom of Heaven from the inside outward.

Challenge: Salt in the pure form we enjoy does not lose its saltiness, but in Jesus’s time salt was not nearly as pure. Read up on it here.

Prayer: Lord of Heaven and Earth, I will do my best to be recognized as an ambassador of your Kingdom. Amen.

Discussion: How can we influence change through love rather than force?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group , visit, or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!