If you follow Jesus, then what does a faithful response to power look like for you?
I want to think about this question with you for 2 reasons:
First, during our time in Mexico together, we confronted a countless number of situations where all of us felt either powerful or powerless. And those feelings shaped how we related to others in Mexico, as well as our faith in Jesus on a personal level, and I believe that this same dynamic holds true for us no matter where we live and visit. Ultimately power shapes our relationships with one another and with God.
And the second reason why I want to address this question with you is because every single one of you is a powerful person. You - every single one of you - possess power.
And what is power? Power simply defined is influence.
You are an influencer.
Conversely, however, you are also influenced. Every one of us in some way or another is influenced by others. Depending on the situation, there are others in positions of power and influence over us - whether that person be a supervisor, family member, friend, or stranger. All of us encounter people who influence us, and still the question remains even in those situations:
“How should a Christian respond to power?” If you follow Jesus, then what does a faithful response to power look like for you?
Everyone all of the time is either influencing or being influenced. And everyone does both. Everyone at times is an influencer and in a position of power, and everyone at times is one being influenced and in a position under someone in power.
Power - and the struggles with power - is a constant part of our life.
And so what do we do with it, and how should we respond?
For those of us who traveled to Mexico, we encountered this struggle firsthand. At times, we were in the position of power, and other times we were not, but the difference between our experiences in Mexico versus that of home consisted primarily of one characteristic: awareness.
In Mexico, we felt acutely aware when we were in a position of power, and probably more so when we were not.
I can recall so vividly driving through the entrance of the Old Tijuana Dump and seeing the faces of teenage students who felt powerless - powerless to do anything about what they were seeing and powerless to feel normal and present in a place so different than anywhere else they had ever been.
The intense poverty of the dump - the injustice of the dump - the horrific odors of the dump - the overwhelming presence of the dump - all of it confronted us and removed any sense of power and influence from us - because in a place like the Old Tijuana dump, the sheer and complete ‘otherness’ of it makes any possibility of influence seem impossible.
And that’s why I wanted to take our students there. Not for the shock and awe of visiting someplace so extreme, but rather, I wanted them to experience those rare moments when you feel powerless and vulnerable.
You see, over time a tension begins to develop between our desire to influence others for the benefit of their growth and our desire to influence others for our benefit. And as this tension develops within us, we tend to pick a side, and typically we pick our side.
When we consistently pick our side over the benefit of others, then after a while, we begin to buy into a myth that we only need that to which we can provide for ourselves, and as a result, the important characteristics that form and grow healthy relationships between us and others and God begin to wain - characteristics like vulnerability and humility.
But the kind of disorienting dilemma like we had in Mexico forces us to re-evaluate how we navigate through this tension.
These kinds of experiences create moments of openness and vulnerability that we otherwise miss when we’re living in the normal rhythms of life. They offer us a different perspective through which we can view our relationships with others and with God differently.
When control, influence, and power flatten and fade away, then we can begin to see others not as a commodity to be leveraged for our benefit, but instead, we can view others and God as a necessity to life in the same way that we need air and food and the things that sustain our well-being.
Not surprisingly, Jesus taught on issues surrounding power and influence numerous times. John chapter 13 in particular addresses this issue firsthand:
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.
Did you hear that statement? This is a statement of power. Jesus knew the power that he possessed. Jesus fully understood his divinity and the power associated with it. He created the heavens and the earth, so ultimate power dwelled within him. Yet, listen to what Jesus does in response to the power bestowed upon him by the Father:
So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
He acknowledged his power, and then in response, he assumed the position of a vulnerable, humble servant.
Even Jesus, when confronted with the opportunity to use and leverage his power for gain - he sets it aside and chose to remain constant to both his mission. He chose redemption over acquisition. And he chose love over the self.
Does this mean that you should begin your next staff meeting by washing the feet of your fellow colleagues? Maybe!
But probably not... so for you within your context, what would it look like for you to respond to power by using the same posture that Jesus did during that night with his closest followers?!
Could it mean visualizing Jesus washing the feet of the person sitting across from you during a heated business discussion? Or washing the feet of your supervisor when that person leverages power over you? Or washing the feet of your colleague who makes poor ethical decisions? Or washing the feet of your spouse after another conflict together? Or washing the feet of your child after they’ve pushed your last button.
Or, what if you are the one who needs to visualize Jesus washing your feet? What if you are the one who needs to put your power in check for the sake of building healthy relationships with others and God?
What if your witness to Jesus and the Kingdom of God in the workplace began not with telling the stories of the Bible, but with humility and vulnerability in the face of power?
During our last night in Mexico, I shared with our students the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. And then afterward, the students turned to their neighbor and washed each other's feet.
Afterward, I gathered the students together and asked them what it felt like to wash someone’s feet and in turn, have someone wash their own.
Every single one of them said (after they each acknowledged that it was a bit awkward :) that it was the closest they had ever felt to that other person and to God.
In the face of power, humility and vulnerability always fosters healthy relationship with others and with God.
QUESTION: You have power, so how do you leverage it for the sake of the Kingdom?