Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Signs of Power

James Isaacs

It is time for us to stop perpetuating the lie that the ability to destroy is a sign of significant power.

Ever since Good Friday, I have had words of Jesus repeating in my mind. Upon the cross, he prays, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." As often happens with scripture, a familiar passage that was meaningful to us before, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can be a new word for us in a new moment or context in our lives. On Good Friday, I heard these words anew, and a new interpretation of them has emerged for me. I realize that what is new for me might have always been obvious to many of you. Yet, following the wisdom of our Quaker brothers and sisters, I will share what I have heard in hopes that it might also be a helpful message for some others.

It is clear that what we did upon the cross is crucify Jesus, the Son of God. Yet, going deeper into the significance of that act, it has begun to occur to me that the crucifixion is, among other things, an expression of a choice that humanity made to choose our own ability to destroy and kill, rather than the opposite choice to participate in the life-giving power of God. At the time, humanity saw its ability to destroy and kill being expressed as an ultimate power in the crucifixion. Yet, from Jesus's prayer, it clear that we didn't understand. All that is really expressed when we destroy and kill is our ability to refuse to participate in the life-giving power of God. We aren't doing any real good; our destructive forces can only be considered good when we deceive ourselves with an incomplete invented morality.

And as a people grounded in the Easter message, we know that God responds to our ignorance about real power, not only with forgiveness, but with an abundant expression of life--nothing short of eternal life. With it we are offered yet another loving invitation to enter into fuller life.
One of the things that I wonder as I keep hearing Jesus's prayer on the cross is, "do we know what we are doing now?" One response to the question could be that we don't know or believe the truth of Easter. If this is the case, when we turn down God's invitation to do what is life-giving, we are just doing the best we can, since we still choose to be dominated by vengeance, a tragic misunderstanding about real power, and a delusion that we are the ones in charge. Or maybe we do now know the truth about what we do, and as God sees us continue to refuse to choose life, Jesus's excuse for our behavior on the cross no longer applies. Of these two possible responses, I tend to prefer to think that we are still ignorant and unbelieving.

As I keep hearing this prayer of Jesus, it leads me on an Easter journey. I am trying to know more clearly what I am doing and what is being done on my behalf. I am trying to courageously learn about and acknowledge how I glorify vengeance, violence, and destruction in my thoughts, in the movies I watch, in the food I eat, in the news I consume, in the ways I enjoy myself, and in the ways I relate to others. I have been led to see that, as a society, we work hard to continue, metaphorically and literally, to arm ourselves and arm others on our behalf in preparation to ever more efficiently utilize our destructive ability to turn away from God. Yet I am seeking ways to disabuse myself of the lie and disarm myself of my destructive potential. I am seeking to equip myself to more fully participate in the life-giving work of God.

So now that we find ourselves in the midst of another Easter season, let us give up the lie and proclaim the truth--the truth that real power lies with God's ability and choice to give abundant life. I am thankful for the ministry of the many people who participate in God's live-giving work so beautifully in their own lives. This Easter, I admire and am trying to be more like them. They are my new models of powerful people.

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[The Rev. James S. Isaacs is the Assistant Rector at St. James’, Potomac and is a congregational consultant specializing in assisting churches to work through change and conflict in healthy ways.]