Power used wisely

The power of the sun fades as in the northern hemisphere we move through autumn towards winter. We make adjustments so we can continue to survive and thrive in the different environment. Power among people also moves and changes and we need to be aware of it shifts and how it is being used. We often hear the saying, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And it think it is true that those with power will use it. The question is how will it be used, for selfish gain or for empowering others. 

On the global scene today there are several examples of those in power trying to consolidate their grip by removing opposition and attempting to continue in their position of control for a further period. But this is also true in the sphere of personal relationships. Being willing to share power or to use it for the benefit of others is often counter cultural. Which is why the teaching of Jesus, summed up in the rule do to others as you would want them to do to you, is so radical. 

Some of us were thinking this week about the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s Gospel, Chapters 5-7). It seemed to me that Jesus was reworking for his day the old sayings of his culture, found in proverbs and old stories in the Wisdom literature. Often they were maxims, pithy phrases easily remembered and readily quotable. Jesus interpreted them, often deepened them, and sometimes turned them on their head. None more so than when addressing power. One example is the way he replaces the saying, “Love your friends and hate your enemies” with “love your enemies”. A contemporary take on this is “make enemies into friends”.

That is what is needed with the way Jesus’ teaching is presented in the Bible. It needs to be reinterpreted for our contemporary context. We should find new ways of challenging the status quo, disturbing the assumptions we too readily make about self- preservation and our right to freedom at all costs. 

Each of us may have power in particular areas of our lives, even if it is only power over what we do to ourselves. We may be in a position to influence others, or pressurise others into behaving as we want them to. But equally we could use our power to enable others to discover their own power and grow in awareness and ability to become the person they want to be. 

We can use the resources at our disposal to cause harm or keep others safe. In these days of pandemic and political authoritarianism the wise are those who choose to use their power for the sake of the good of the community, for the well-being of life on Earth, and to protect those who are vulnerable and at risk, not least, those whom we love. 

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