not "together we are strong," but "God is strong"

I got back in touch with a friend recently, and was reminded of our first encounter, in an internet discussion. Here's one of my pieces of that conversation:

It's not just an "absence" of the use of human power that I see in Jesus, but an avoidance. He avoided the attempts to make him king. He avoided wealth. And it seems he could have led a (violent or nonviolent) political uprising, since he had enough popularity at some points (though it seems most of those crowds did not understand Jesus' true purpose and would later abandon him). The Jewish leaders feared this, I believe. But Jesus did not do this, he squandered that opportunity, he taught hard things and lost followers (see Jn 6), and instead of using the crowds to achieve a political victory he let himself be arrested without resisting or threatening (like "if you kill me, my followers will rise up and..."). The fact that people in every society use these various forms of human power, and though Jesus could have used them he chose not to, stands out to me. I ask why avoid these? And I see that they offered nothing for his purposes and they also lead to the temptations of pride, the corruption of power, always and everywhere. Instead, Jesus stays poor and weak, avoiding those temptations of human power and relying only on God's power, which builds our faith and points others to God and lets God's power work most perfectly. As Jesus revealed to Paul, "My power is made perfect in weakness."

And we should be the same way as his followers. I'm always leery of the "Jesus had a very specific mission" argument. Which sets Jesus apart from us as unique and not necessarily to be imitated. Jesus told us to follow his example, even the cross part: "take up your cross and follow me." So I think we should avoid putting him in some isolated category. Jesus' mission now, in us, is the same as when he walked the earth. And our methods should be the same as well.

I have a feeling we might have a slightly different opinion about how much things have actually changed in the political realm since Jesus' time. Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent was enlightening to me in its description of how those in power can control the public in modern democratic societies. It seems to me that new "rights" have been allowed in about the same measure that new, more sophisticated forms of political control have been developed. Take the example of public protests. In American society, most all political leaders say they approve of the right to protest, but then they also have well-developed ways of controlling those protests, specific areas designated for them, and ways of "spinning" them to minimize their impact. Rulers in the middle east have not developed these political methods of handling mass protests, so they fear them more and handle them badly. In modern democratic states, violent repression is usually not needed for political control (so the negative political impact of the violence is avoided) since there are other nonviolent ways of controlling the populace. Even allowing a democratic vote is beneficial for those in power if they have ways to make sure they can win and stay in power (and look who does always win, those with the money and political party backing to work the system). Then when they win they can say to the people, "You chose me. Even if you didn't vote for me, you approved and supported the system that handed me this power." (For more thoughts related to this, go here: "modern forms of persecution")

I think the basics of economic and political power are the same throughout history, though the specific forms of that power vary. But it's always recognizable. Economic and political power in every age is the power of Babel, the power of people working together (or uniting their resources), the power that is rallied with the cry "Unite! Together we are strong!" And from the time of Babel, this has always been in opposition to God. It glorifies humanity, not God. It encourages trust in the power of united human beings, not God. And thus it is in opposition to Jesus' purposes, which was to encourage obedience to God, love of God, faith in God. This is also why I see Jesus avoiding human power and relying on the power of God, the power that works in miraculous ways through people who are themselves poor, weak, often uneducated and unorganized (except perhaps by God's one Spirit). Paul points to this when he writes things like "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." And:

The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

The message of Jesus' words and actions was not "together we are strong" but "God is strong. You can trust God completely. You can be like a child, free and fearless under the care of your loving Parent." Just like Jesus was.