Our Gospel today raises the issue of POWER. That is a good red-blooded American and especially Texan topic, appropriate for this Independence Day weekend. Power. What is it? How to get it? How to use it?
And more specifically, what does Christian power look like?
It is a bit tricky.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel Jesus appoints 72 disciples, sends them off in pairs, and tells them “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” Like lambs among wolves? Hmmm. What would that be like? Where does the power lie in that image?
Even if you have never been a shepherd, or worked with sheep, or have never encountered a wolf, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure this one out. Like lambs among wolves is a position of powerlessness.
In the way of the world the wolves have the power. Lambs are cute. They are innocent. They are charming. But they are not powerful. They are powerless. That is the judgment of the world, and Jesus tells us “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” You are powerless. How does that make you feel?
Look around at the forces that drive the economy, at greed, at illness, at injustice, at natural disasters, at war, at famine, at crazy people with assault rifles, at all the distracted and rotten drivers and the accidents that happen every day, at cancer and the Zika virus and superbugs immune to antibiotics, and you will begin to recognize yourself as a lamb in the midst of wolves. (You’re screwed.) Good luck.
But then, just a few verses later, Jesus says almost the opposite: “Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.”
Well that is more like it. That sounds powerful: power to tread upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. I like that a lot better than being a lamb in the midst of wolves. How about you?
So which is it? Was Jesus just joshing us and joking with us when He told us we were lambs among wolves? Teasing like an older brother? Getting a fright out of us? Or did Jesus change His mind and decide we really are powerful? Which statement of Jesus is true?
Well, Like so much in religion, they BOTH are true, and both are true at the same time, and in the same way. ¿How can we be both powerless like lambs among wolves and at the same time be powerful to tread on the full force of the enemy so that nothing will harm us?
The key to understanding God’s power – which is what Jesus is teaching us about – is the cross. On the cross Jesus was utterly powerless. // On the cross Jesus was supremely powerful.
On the cross Jesus was totally helpless, at the mercy of His executions, pinned to the cross He could hardly even move. Yet, on the cross Jesus fully defeated sin and death and won the victory of life for all, the greatest triumph ever. He was both like a lamb among wolves and supremely victorious.
The power that Jesus gives us is not the power to smite our enemies. Not the power to destroy, not to blow things up, not the power to water-board, nor enslave, nor to harm. Rather the incredible power that Jesus promises us is the power to overcome sin in our hearts. The serpents and scorpions we are able to tread on are the hatred, the vengeance, the violence, the greed, the pettiness, the juicy gossip, the indifference, the laziness, the lust, the prejudice, the fear and all the other serpents and scorpions of evil that nest in our hearts.
Over these, over our own selves, Jesus gives us the power. He can set us free from all the works of death that diminish and demean us. We can be free. Free to live as children of God, free to live lives of dignity and integrity, free to love without pettiness or selfishness, free to be children of God.
In the eyes of the world this is nothing. It is like being a lamb in the midst of wolves: dangerous and imperiled. But in the firm knowledge of faith, it is victory. It is triumph. It is the ultimate power. It is the paradox of the cross.