Have you ever had your story completely changed? I have. Eight months ago my son was born.
In eight months, he’s flipped my life upside down. I’m the biggest cheerleader of this little guy. He does the most mundane tasks and I’m ecstatic.
Today, Silas grabbed the couch, stood up, looked around, and lowered himself back down. And I sat across from him, beaming with wonder and pride. He’s turning into an affectionate little guy, occasionally offering an unprompted “kiss” — pressing his open mouth against the stubble on my cheek — and every time, I just about loose it.
Silas brings me a lot of joy. I don’t know how such a little person could be filled with so much energy and happiness, but he is. And he’s filled with wonder — totally engaged in everything around him.
This afternoon, our neighbors were feeding their pit bull in the bed of their pickup. As I chatted with the neighbors, Silas watched the strong furry creature in the back, and when the dog popped its head up from the food bowl, Silas doubled over in giggly bursts.
As I’ve gotten to know my son over the past months, I’ve thought frequently about an episode in the Jesus story.
Towards the end of Jesus’s public life, Jesus overhears an argument between his disciples. They were debating who would had the best chance at being next-in-charge. Not anticipating the whole crucifixion thing, they anticipated Jesus going really viral and then taking over Jerusalem, if not Rome itself.
I imagine Jesus chuckled at their juvenile jostle. But, he saw it as a teaching moment. Jesus lifts one of the small children in their traveling party — maybe one as small as Silas — and says, “If you can see God in this little one, then you’re on the way to greatness.”
Let me tell you, my son is great! But he’s not strong. He’s not mighty. He’s not powerful as we so often think of The Powerful.
But, he has my heart. One look from him and I’m sailing. One cry for help and I fly out of bed in the dead of night.
It’s not just me, either! I can’t count the number of people who hold him and say with a sigh, “I feel better now.”
That’s power. But to see it, you’ve got to tell yourself a different story about power and greatness.
When this topic about who’s great in the kingdom comes up again, Jesus tells his disciples, “All the nations of the world use power to climb on top of some and pin others down. But not so with you.”
Sandwiched between these two “greatness” stories, in Luke’s version of the Jesus saga, is a peculiar pericope (Note: pericope = Bible-nerd word for a succinct chunk of text).
Word reaches Jesus and his fellow travelers that the Samaritans refused their request for hospitality — a cardinal offense in first-century, collectivist and honor-based Middle Eastern culture. James and John — those Sons of Thunder — responded in the way they thought was righteous. They wanted to call down fire on their Samaritan neighbors.
Spoiler Alert: Jesus shut this idea down fast.
He probably said something like, “Don’t you know this isn’t how we use power? Haven’t you seen what happens when power is weaponized? Do you think I said “do unto others” as a suggestion? If we use power in this way, how is the Kingdom of Heaven — how is God’s dream — any different than the nightmares of war and assault and holocaust that define the status quo of Rome and every other empire of the world? It’s not to be this way with you.”
What Manner of Spirit
Some manuscripts tell us that his rebuke ends with the reprimand, ““You don’t know what manner of spirit you’re speaking from; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to heal them.” What manner of spirit are you in? The spirit to kill and destroy or the spirit to heal and save?
Jesus constantly compares his story of power and greatness to the power structures of those outside it. The implication is this: the Spirit of God’s story about power is different than what we hear and see in the world. But that same Spirit is active when Jesus is rebuking a storm, and when he is rebuking his disciples.
We can’t think that God cares how power is used only in the public and dramatic and not for the personal and daily. We can’t expect to see and experience the greatness of God’s power in the explosive, if we don’t seek to practice it in the minutia of our lives.
That’s like thinking that a lasting relationship is all about grand gestures — the flowers and limo ride on the first date, the cinematic proposal, the standing outside on the lawn with a boombox — but then never doing the dishes, never voicing appreciation and admiration, never asking for forgiveness.
I recently heard someone say that the more power someone has — more success in life, more influence, more authority — the more they feel they have to purge certain phrases from their vocabulary. Phrases like,
- “I was wrong.”
- “I need help.”
- “Will you forgive me?”
- “What do you think?”
When one equates power and perfection, it’s easy to see why. But may it not be so with you. Use your power to serve the people around you. Be impressed with the power of the “weaker” people around you.
When my son stood up and sat down today, I wasn’t taken by his strength but by his growth, his persistence, and his willingness to try again after all the days he wasn’t able to do what’s now so easy for him.
How we communicate matters. And, how we communicate the power we possess matters, too. What is the story of power in your mind? Who gets it? What do you do with the power you have?
This blog post is adapted from a sermon I gave at Biola University’s chapel series, Story and Spirit. Watch it on YouTube.