Some dangerous and wasted thoughts on Jesus' challenge to the story of power (Matthew 14): Church as alternative to the story of power
I’m doing some study on Matthew 14 this afternoon and ran across a rather powerful quote from Stanley Hauerwas’s commentary on Matthew. I have been thinking these thoughts for a while now (and I will be sharing some of them this coming (5/12/19) Sunday), namely, that those in power and the powerful must use power to stay in power; sadly, most use of power by the powers and the powerful is threat, violence, or the subtle making of promises to those without power (to grant or take away) something needed.
It is this last use of power that is most deceptive and, well, rather powerful. You see, it matters not whether the powers or the powerful actually deliver on said promises, for it is the making of the promises that counts because those with no power have no choice but to acknowledge (bow before, vote for, smile in adoration, applaud or laud, promote, et al.) that it is only in the powers and powerful that they will ever see the good for themselves or their neighborhoods (even though they don’t ever see the promises delivered).
In Matthew 14, Jesus (that is, Matthew in the narrative) is hinting at an alternative to power, first in Jesus as that alternative and then at the development (forthcoming, i.e., the forming of the) community that follows Jesus. We, the church (read a local church), are that alternative to the story of power.
Here’s the quote:
Wasted Quote: Christians (conservative or progressive) cannot imagine power any other way than politics–and that's a problem for the church
In this, they mistakenly imagine that to pass a referendum, elect a candidate, pass a law, or change a policy is to change culture. In truth, they probably know better, but in terms of the amount of energy expended and money spent, the net effect is a view much like this. While Christian activists (conservative and progressive) have been fairly influential in the political sphere at different times in recent decades, they have embraced a means to power that seethes with resentment, anger, and bitterness for the injury they believe they have suffered. The public and political culture of contemporary Christianity have become defined by such negations. Christians believe that they have a legitimate right to participate in the democratic process and they are, of course, right. The problem resides with the political culture they not only embrace but have helped to create. The tragic irony is that in the name of resisting the dark nihilisms of the modern age, Christians—in their will to power and the ressentiment that fuels it—perpetuate that nihilism. In so doing, Christians undermine the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance" (James Davison Hunter from To Change the World).
*My previous post on Voting and the Table
Two reflective thoughts on Christian leadership (based on studying 2 Chronicles for a sermon series)
Over the past few months I have been studying through 2 Chronicles for a current sermon series on this part of Israel's history and how it applies to our CPC in The Hill congregation. Here are two thoughts--my former Prairie Bible College students would have called them "Chip's stream of consciousness."
Reflecting on the events and personalities in 2 Chronicles 10-12 has lead me to consider the problem of leadership--once again. I contend the spiritually mature is reluctant to take up the mantle of leadership, for she or he knows that stepping into such a role will challenge his or her own humanity and will face the massive temptation to deny, redefine, or hinder the humanity of others. The truly spiritually mature is hesitant in taking a leadership status for there will be great temptation to enjoy, and then to crave, the idolatrous power that so naturally attaches to and is granted to leaders. The platform for Christian leadership is fraught with danger, idolatrous infirmities, and is a dark place, full of terrors (as a Game of Throne's character would say about the night).
Seems many believe that the goal of the strong (well at least those who consider themselves strong) is to help critique and then change the weak into the strong; whereas, the way of God in this world (as far as I can see in the Scriptures) completely turns our cultural attitude about strength (i.e., the strong) and the contempt for weakness (i.e., the weak) on its head, that is, the strong (who are only so by God’s grace and nothing in and of themselves) are to carrier, advocate for, and serve the weaker. Those privileged with some measure and gift (for all things are given, there is nothing that hasn't been received as gift, cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7) of strength (be it wealth, health, physical strength, clarity of mind, talent, or even the immediate amenities needed or desired for life), you have the gift in order to expend it on others, especially those who are weak (be it the lack of wealth, health, physical strength, clarity of mind, talent, or even the immediate amenities needed for life). This is the way and mind of the One we are called to follow, the One who had it all and left it all to become a servant, even a servant to the point of death on a cross (e.g., Philippians 2:5-11).
*A side note, since I am also studying 1 Corinthians as well: It is interesting to note this also seems to be the issue at the table in 1 Corinthians 10-14.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.