As she copes with the tragedy of childlessness, Hannah, the mother of sorrows, praises God continually. After the birth of Samuel, Hannah, the mother of joy, still exults in her Lord. Her faith is a source of comfort, strength, and guidance throughout her life. The imagery of the lowly lifted up and the proud brought down by God’s knowledge and authority brings truth as well as warning. Psalm 113 echoes Hannah’s exaltation, blessing and glorifying the Lord who is to be praised. The New Testament readings add the dimension that Christ has shown us the “new and living way” of faith, hope, and love. As we travel together as disciples in Christ, striving to love God and one another, we must encourage and support our individual and corporate journeys. While there will be many challenges, both known and unknown, our strength and comfort are always in the Lord.
How do we respond to the ways of power and dominance in our world? The most natural response is to retaliate, using force to overcome force and violence to deal with violence. It’s tempting to place our faith in bigger guns, more money, and better power plays, but there is no peace or security to be found in that course. It doesn’t matter whether it’s conflict between nations or conflict between individuals, when we allow violence to beget more violence, we bring nothing but greater destruction, pain, and death into our world. It may feel good to dominate another, or to get revenge on an antagonist, but ultimately, when we make the quest for power the guiding force in our lives, we lose our souls.
Jesus had a very different way of living. When his disciples admired the grandeur of the temple, which had come to represent both political and spiritual power and wealth, Jesus warned them that such human power systems would not survive. The temple, and those who enjoyed power because of it, would be destroyed. Human attempts to claim power – whether through war or pretending to be great spiritual leaders (messiahs) – would ultimately bring nothing but destruction. What lasts is the way of powerless peace that Jesus lived and preached. As powerful as the Roman Empire was when it destroyed the temple (as Jesus had predicted), it could not withstand the power of the Gospel. It took a few hundred years, but ultimately love and peace remained, and the Empire collapsed.
Most of us will have little to do with the power plays of governments and nations, except as we use our vote or our voice to engage in political processes. But we all have to face power dynamics in our lives, our families, and our communities every day. Here is where we need to make the choice either to embrace the power games of the world, or to embody the “powerless” peace of Jesus, refusing to retaliate, being quick to forgive, and quick to share whatever power we have with others. This is the theme we will explore this week. At the start of the Church Year, at Advent Sunday, we read a section of Mark 13 that comes after today’s reading. Next week we will celebrate the Reign of Christ on the last Sunday of this liturgical year. But just before we do that, we come full circle as we explore the first part of Mark 13 today. The temple, which had been built by Herod in an attempt to appease the Jews who opposed his rulership, was a magnificent building. But it was also the centre of power abuse, corruption, and oppression – as is demonstrated by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in Mark 11. Yet, the disciples were taken in by the beauty of the architecture and admired the grandeur of the building. Jesus however revealed that this grandeur was temporary – as all human power is. Jesus could see the signs in his world of growing unrest, and he knew that the time would come when rebellion and war would break out. So, he warned his disciples not to be taken in by human power, but to remain true to his way of justice, peace, and love. Ultimately our lives come down to this question: which values will we embrace – the power plays of our world, or the sacrificial service of the Gospel? As we interact with one another each day, our answer to this question makes all the difference. Power plays bring broken relationships and devastated people. Gospel living brings reconciliation, peace, and love. Which will you choose today?
When we are concerned with holding on to our little kingdoms, we become harsh, judgmental, and exclusive. But, when we follow the ways of Jesus, we become welcoming and inclusive. Today, try to be open and welcoming with everyone.
I release my petty power plays, O God, and embrace your welcoming way of peace and love.