Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 20:20-34) transports me to back to the future, when some 1st century Palestinian petitions sound as contemporary as today’s tweet. First, a mother comes to Jesus just after he’s taught that the first will be last and the last first, and she asks if her two sons can be his right and left hand men in the kingdom. My boys would make fine first and second officers; they’re strong and reliable and don’t spout off at every opportunity like rocks for brains Peter over there. Then, two blind men cry out with the request heard from so many suffering people: Lord have mercy. I picture them with long hair and beards, wearing some ZZ Top sunglasses, waiting for the bus all day, as the song says, with brown paper bags in hand.
To the first petition: The desire for privileged status, to be number one, to be in the winner’s circle, to be the best, to be in the limelight, (or the parent’s desire for little Junior to be number one) has not diminished among the people of faith over the past two thousand years. And that desire doesn’t really get us anywhere spiritually; to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, when we try to look out for number one, we’re likely to step in number two. We skim over Jesus’ teaching that turns such desires upside down, and act like ignoramuses out of a Far Side cartoon. Duh, Jesus, excuse me, I mean, Cap’n Christ sir, aren’t you trying to say that we can help you call the shots? Don’t you really mean that we can help you lord it over those infernal imperialist infidels when we conquer ‘em? The desire for power and authority does not seem to be affected all that much by the clarity of Christ’s teaching about the dangers of power and authority. Nonetheless, Jesus goes over the protocols of piety one more time: You know – or you should know – that it’s the way of the world to lord it over folks; their high officials exercise authority over their subjects. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. Jesus’ power consists of compassion and care, not command and control. But his powerful compassion hasn’t been powerful enough to diminish the desire for privilege and the lording it over mentality among the faithful of our land who want to conquer enemies, build a Christian empire, and call the shots.
Contrast the disciples’ basic human desire to demand authority with the desire of the two roadside blind men. Dusty and Billy cried out for mercy, not might. The crowd rebuked their bluesy cry for compassion, but Jesus responded and gave them sight. And interestingly enough, before giving them sight, he first asked them what they wanted. He didn’t just answer their cry with a merciful God bless you and walk on. Instead of doing what so many people who lord it over others do and assume he knew what was best for them, he put them in the driver’s seat, gave them the dignity of articulating their needs, and then responded. They said they needed their physical eyesight, so Jesus took off their shades, touched their eyes and restored their vision. And they started following; they started walking the Way of compassion. There’s Jesus’ power. It was and is a power that conquers injustice and imperialism, but not in the way the world expects. It’s the power of love. It’s a power many disciples still haven’t completely trusted, hedging their bets with instruments of worldly power in the quest for security and dominance. Maybe the news from another good old 80s rocker will help wean us from those tendencies: The power of love is a curious thing, make one man weep, make another man sing, change a hawk to a little white dove. . . That’s the power that makes the world go round.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.