Power is a Poison

20 September 2009 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 2, 12-20; Psalm 54; James 3, 16 – 4, 3; Mark 9, 30-37

There are many challenges in being and living in a Christian community. Even if we are with religious and pious members, we are not immune to the wiles of the world. The Gospel today tells us about Mark’s concern in his community, namely, ambition among themselves. Even among the disciples, they are arguing which of them is the greatest and the most important. The response of Jesus is direct and simple: to be important for Jesus means to be a humble servant, not a proud “first”. To be important is be a servant-leader; to find oneself not at the presidential table in feasts, but to identify with the servers who wait and make themselves available to whatever the guests need. In other words, the attitude of a humble servant is one of openness. With open arms, they accommodate, listen and receive the needs of the least, the lost and the little ones. Mark thus uses the image of the child to illustrate openness.

There is a basic trust in the goodness of others. One can be “open” to others because they see that the people they serve are trustworthy. There are people who still find beauty and goodness in others. Thus, they are happy to serve them. Above all, they trust because they have Someone who is also trustworthy. There is a time when children think their fathers know best. They go through their life with the complete thought that no matter what befalls them, there is someone whom they can go back to, someone who loves and cares for them no matter what. This child who has acquired such an attitude grows up confident and hopeful; even if some of their friends betrays that trust. So no matter what befalls them, they have completely placed themselves totally in the hands of their parents.

The growing tenet of the world to “distrust” people and to be skeptical and cynical about what is happening at present form a closed attitude to others. When we become closed and exclusive, we find it harder to genuinely serve. Often, the ‘service’ is self-centered, the way many corrupt government officials have shown to us. Therefore it is important that anyone given a position of leadership and power should know by heart what ‘important’ is for Jesus. With this spirituality, power becomes a potent tool for service. Without this spirituality however, power becomes dangerous.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said “Power is a poison, well known for thousands of years. If only no one were ever able to acquire material power over others. But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal … But for those, however, who are unaware of anyone Higher, power is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.” (The Gulag Archipelago)

Oftentimes, those who are ambitiously self-centered find fulfillment in themselves and in the enrichment of those whom they considered within their circle of friends only. The rest of us are insignificant.

However, Christian happiness means to enjoy life with others; to find joy in the company of others; to find peacefulness receiving and serving others. This is what is most important. To them, power can be entrusted. Let me end with this story.

Doyal Van Gelder tells about his son, Ronnie, getting ready to go to kindergarten. Ronnie turned to his father and said, “I think I’ll be sad today.” When asked why, he replied, “Because when you’re sad about something, the teachers take turns hugging you.” I believe to be important in the name of Jesus is to be able to know when people are sad, and at the same time, to be willing to hug them if need be.

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