by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
I've always been a fan of comic books, especially the kind about superheroes like Superman or Spider-Man with their amazing powers. I wonder: If you could have a super power, what would you want? Super strength? X-ray vision? To be invulnerable, watching bullets bounce off your chest? I asked some of my coworkers that question. One young man said he'd like to be able to go without sleep, so he could get more done. Another said he'd like to be able to be in two places at once. One woman said she'd like to be able to fly. Yet another man said he'd like to be able to make time go more slowly.
These would all be amazing abilities and I'm sure they'd come in handy if you decided to become a comic book style costumed crime fighter. But in my mind, there's an important distinction between having ability and having power. Ability is something you can do; power means that you can cause things to happen. It doesn't matter whether you're “faster than a speeding bullet;” if you can't get what you want, you don't have power. If you can “leap tall buildings in a single bound” but nobody will listen to you, then you have no power. Persons who have been disenfranchised from the rest of society, who have been denied the right to determine the course of their lives, have been stripped of any form of power. And the people who do have power don't want anyone else to get it. They fear challenges to their position and authority.
Herod recognized Jesus' power, and he was disturbed by it. People around Herod were saying that Jesus must be John the Baptist brought back to life in order to do the things he did (Luke 9:7-9). Herod was responsible for John's death, and he was disturbed by the thought of another like John, even if it weren't John returned from the dead. Luke prefaces his version of the Sermon on the Mount–occasionally known in this context as the “Sermon on the Plain”–by writing, “And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (Luke 6:19 NRSV). At the end of the sermon, Matthew writes, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt. 7:28-29 NRSV). They recognized Jesus' power in the things he did and in the authority with which he taught, in his effect on them. He didn't simply have opinions about the scriptures; he knew them as no one else could. His words were literally the word of God. His power made people listen whether they agreed or not.
Jesus gave power to his disciples, “and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:2 NRSV). Jesus' power extends to us, as well. John wrote, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,” (John 1:12 NRSV). This is our “super power” from God, the power to be God's children; “all who received him” includes us today. The power and the commission of the first disciples are ours: to proclaim the kingdom and to heal. We may not have amazing abilities but we have power that comes from God.
Paul urged the Ephesians to “. . . be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” (Eph. 6:10b NRSV). And he reminded the Corinthians that “. . . the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.” (1 Cor. 4:20 NRSV). God doesn’t empower us merely for talking but for loving and doing (Jas. 1:22).
We are called to proclaim the kingdom of God to those who have been excluded; we are called to bring healing to broken minds, spirits, and relationships. We are called to challenge the abuses of power that we find in our world. When persons are disenfranchised, when injustice prevails, then we cannot remain silent or otherwise uninvolved. Each day, we see people who need the power Christ can provide, people without hope, people without God. We have the power to bring change to their lives. We can help them find power to become children of God–power for living.
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 NRSV.)