POWER TO LAY IT DOWN; POWER TO TAKE IT UP AGAIN!
4th Sunday of Easter (B)
April 29, 2012
All three readings take up the common thread of power. The first reading from the Acts shows us the power of “faith in the name of Jesus.” The second reading from the first letter of John, for its part, shows us that love is power, too … It is generative. It makes those who believe, more than just believers, but children of God. The Gospel from John shows the ultimate sign and fruit of this power from above. Christ Jesus, has power to lay his life down, and power to take it up again!
I feel very down these days. For one, the heat is terribly stifling. With such record highs, one loses a lot of energy to do much of anything, except try one’s best not to sweat, by doing as little as possible. But there are other reasons for me to feel down and out, and even powerless. I know I am powerless before the tide of public opinion, swayed hither and thither by mainstream media. I feel for the powerless majority who really have not much power to choose, most especially in the political realm, where a politics of patronage literally shoves candidates down the throats of people who don’t know any better. And I feel sad, that, whether we accept it or not, the campaign season for 2016 has really begun in earnest, with senatorial line-ups being announced formally and informally, and political turncoats shamelessly changing camps, like they change shoes.
I feel powerless, for I agree with a writer who said that the great scandal of Christianity these days is its seeming powerlessness to curb the culture of sin and death, the culture of corruption, and the overwhelming force of darkness and evil in all aspects of our personal and societal lives.
I am sure you will agree with me if I say that the disciples, right after the death of the Lord, must have felt exactly, if not, worse than what I feel right now. They felt down and out. They felt defeated. Disappointed would be to put it mildly. And feeling powerless and deeply fearful, all they could do was huddle together up in a secluded room.
You have come to Church today, not because you are not afraid. You have come to Mass not because you feel on top of the world and are in perfect shape. No … you confessed your sinfulness, like I did, at the start of this Mass. You confessed, too, your apparent helplessness and powerlessness before the power of evil, especially organized evil everywhere. I have come here with fear and even hatred against that powerful bully northwest of us, who continue to stake out their claims to something that does not belong to them. But I also confess my lack of power.
But precisely because we have come together, our task right now is not to feed our anger, our fear, and our hopelessness. That would be to disregard the roaring good news that Christ has come to give us.
And what does He give us today?
Power … Yes … precisely what we think we do not have! And what does He tell us? For one, this power is not ours to shape and to ascertain by our unaided powers! Peter tells it clearly. The once fearful and shaking apostle who could not even face the servant girl and her curious questions, that led him to deny the Lord three times, comes out today in the open and declares unequivocally: “know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, and whom God raised from the dead. It is in his name that this man stands before you healed!”
One thing about being a long time formator and counselor is I can look back and make confident generalizations about human behavior. Young people always think themselves invincible. They have a sense of power. Once they learn to drive a car, they never think they stand a chance to meet an accident. They tend to be reckless. Being young, they have very little sense of mortality. Sickness happens to other people, but not them. I know … I was young, too, once. I relied a whole lot on myself, my own powers, or brilliance, oftentimes more imagined than real.
Today, we all hear a word or two about where power really comes. It is not generated from within. It comes from above. It comes from God, who alone is all-powerful and Almighty.
But the 2nd and 3rd readings tell us what sort of power this is about. No … this is not about the power of the mighty and the strong; the wealthy and the influential … That power has to do with gentle love, saving love, redeeming love. This is the love that makes of us more than just followers, but children of God. This is the love that makes us ONE with Him, not just one of His flock.
This power, furthermore, is one shown in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge, as C.S. Lewis teaches. This is the love shown by a Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for his sheep,” who “knows” his flock and who is known by them in turn. He is responsible even for those who do not belong to his flock, and respects them enough to lead them too pasture,too.
When all of us were younger, we thought of power and influence in terms of being mighty and strong. We all played war games when we were kids, Allied forces against enemy forces, and every time, victory was with the more powerful, and the better equipped. Even as adults, most of us at times tend to think we need more money, higher positions, and greater power for us to do good. We get drunk by the idea of wielding more and more … money, position, prestige.
Today, the Good News convicts us as much as it shames us. The power that the Lord shows and gives resides more in love. It has nothing to do with weapons, and definitely not with wealth. He who saves in love was shamed, humiliated, even hunted down and put to death. No greater suffering was ever meted out to any man before and after. And no greater love than this was ever shown by any man alive or dead. This man is Lord. He is Master. Teacher. Rabbi. Savior and Christ! He has power to lay it down, and power to take it up again!