Monday, January 03, 2005

The Power of Powerlessness

Diogenes sez (in the comments):
I think that is what is so powerful (for me) about the Jesus story. My rendition of him in my own heart and mind has him not about control and power in the least but about giving. I should point out that such a conception is completely the opposite of that of many of the "Christians" of today who simply desire to control and salivate at the thought of being in power (see the latest from Radical Cleric Dobson for evidence of this).

The story of the Gospels is, fundamentally, the story of the power of powerlessness. In history (v. the Gospel stories, where the authors and their communities had reason to fear Roman reprisals for criticizing Roman power), Jesus of Nazareth was executed for being a threat (however small) to the Pax Romana. The story of Pilate equivocating over the execution is a dubious one. Pilate was finally removed from Judea for being too harsh; not for being tender-hearted.

We would do well to remember, too, that the Feast of the Passover was a 'national' event for Israel, a reminder of it's status as a sovereign nation, once upon a time. Pilate's palace looked over the walls of the Temple courtyard so Roman soldiers could keep an eye on this annual event. Rome was very jealous of its authority, and brooked little disagreement with its rule. And also, crucifixion was a peculiarly Roman form of execution (and a peculiarly brutal one), reserved for political prisoners (think of the final scene of "Spartacus," for example). So it's likely no accident the crucifixion occured at such a politically charged time.

By submitting to execution, Jesus submitted to human power, but proved it powerless. It was, in fact, the only way. There is no power without resistance, and by refusing to offer resistance to the ultimate human power, the power to kill, God puts human power and limitations in their place. Not by superiority, but by weakness, and by being, as Jesus himself would say, the God of the living, not the dead. God is the god of life. And life, ultimately, is more powerful than death. As John Donne said, "Death, be not proud," because, in the final paradox, of all that is, alone "death, thou shalt die."

Addendum: the power of powerlessness is, of course, also the story of Christmas, and Epiphany.

No comments:

Post a Comment