Power and honor are attractive temptations. Power is alluring because we want to be in control. Many of us believe that control provides security and safety. Many of us believe that power provides access and control over our environment and situations as they arise. Honor has an attraction also because we want to belong, we want to be a part of. With honor and fame, we believe we will be accepted, liked, have access, without the risk of rejection.
Power and honor become a problem when they are grounded in our self and when we feel we attain them on our own initiative. They become an asset if we recognize them as gifts from God that help us to promote his kingdom. In and of themselves, power and honor are finite expressions. If they are only fueled by our insatiable desire to put our self first, front and center, we will not only constantly fall short, but we will constantly be seeking more because nothing finite can fulfill the transcendental hunger that we have to belong to someone so much greater than ourselves.
The disciples of Jesus fell for the temptations of power and honor in today’s Gospel from Mark. Jesus had just shared with them that he was to be handed over and killed and that he will rise again. The disciples do not understand what Jesus was saying to them and instead grasped at their idea of what the Messiah meant to them based on their experience and culture. He would be a powerful ruler, and so they began to jockey among themselves for seats of honor in his kingdom.
Jesus was aware that the disciples were squabbling about who among them would be the greatest, even though they were not willing to admit to that fact. He then sat down among them and said: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk 9:35). Power and honor do not come by being served. True power and honor come from the source of all existence, God the Creator. Nor is the infinite power of God some impersonal force that we tap into.
True power is trusting not in the material and finite things of the world because they are unstable. True power comes from God, the one who is omnipotent, all-powerful, and worthy of all honor and praise. We receive the power of God by experiencing, developing, and sustaining our relationship with him, through participation in the life of his Son and the Love of the Holy Spirit. The path of discipleship is traveled not by those who are worthy but by those willing to follow the lead of Jesus, submitting to his will, embracing the gifts that the Holy Spirit grants us, and sharing what we have received with others.
Lent begins tomorrow. May we be willing to relinquish our perceived access of control in a fallen world that is ever unstable and changing and instead place our hope and trust in the one who is our destiny, who is our hope, our refuge, and our strength. Let us let go of the desire to be liked and adored by the fickleness of others and instead strive to be true to who we are called to be. May others see no longer us but Jesus shining through us in our acts of service, kindness, accompaniment, and love.
My classmates and I prostrating ourselves during our ordination, as a sign of our dying to self so to rise as servants of Christ. Photo credit Deacon Mike Miller