Power and powerlessness.

Signpost for Sunday 26 July 2015: 2 Samuel 11.1 – 15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3. 14 – 21; John 6. 1 – 21.

King David is a great man. But he is also a powerful man, in his own context. And power corrupts. Our lection from the Second Book of Samuel is about the misuse of that power.

It begins when David steals a woman. If that sounds like treating a woman as property, then so be it. That was the way most people thought and many people still do. And there are four wrongs involved. Firstly, Bathsheba is not his woman – wife or concubine, person or property. Second, he uses his royal power to pressure her. Thirdly, Bathsheba’s husband is a foreigner in the employ of the King – a big no-no in Jewish Law to steal from him. Fourthly, Uriah was a good and loyal servant, so the betrayal of trust is enormous.

Once the misuse of power has begun, it inevitably becomes compounded. The King adds a further three wrongs, acting as Commander-in-chief. He brings Uriah back from the battle-front to try and confuse the issue (pardon the pun). Then he tries to get Uriah drunk – while Uriah still regards himself as being on duty! And finally he not only orders Uriah’s death, but does it in a way that risks the lives of others.

Examples of the corrupt use of power are not limited to Biblical incidents, of course. From the Holocaust to Burundi, from Cambodia to Nauru we can find examples large and small, and some in our own country. Power is so dangerous.

I get uncomfortable when I hear the “hymn”, “We are a people of power!” or any other use of the image of God as powerful. St Augustine put it this way, “Jesus does not say, “Learn from me, for I raise the dead after four days,” but rather, “Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.”

As Christians, we speak often of the picture of God’s power being seen on the Cross, but sometimes we forget that this is essentially ironic. For some, it becomes a back door way into power, seen more clearly in Resurrection. But that is a complete misunderstanding. Resurrection does not overcome the sacrifice of the Cross, it validates it.

The Cross is not a defeat that is changed into a victory by Easter. The Cross is the central fact, the victory itself; it is what God chooses, the “power” of powerlessness. God does not give in to the corrupting force of power. God embraces powerlessness and invites us to join Christ there.

Andrew

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