My readings this week (for the beginning of Lent) include a lot about poverty, the aspects of self-denial, chosen weakness and failure. Those who follow the crucified Christ will be familiar with failure—and in one reading, the author encountered a high ranking church official who said he had no experience of failure, and in astonishment the author asked him what symbol stood above every altar, on every church building, and even on his stationery?
It struck me, though, just how easy it is for all this important stuff to become so familiar that it loses its power and significance. I have known these things for decades. Do they still challenge me, to the very roots of my being?
Reflecting on Luke 5., where at verses 23 and 24 Jesus speaks of the ‘authority’ of the Son of Man—himself—to forgive, and to heal (exousia, in greek)—the question is: What is this authority and what is its basis? (And so, too, for all who follow him—especially dangerous questions for those who are ‘ordained’ or who hold any position given status in the church.)
It is not about office, of any kind.
Rather, as I think about him, as presented in the gospel stories:
- He has the courage to see things differently. John V Taylor called this ‘bi-sociation’: the ability to see things as they are and to see things as they could be. This is about potential in people and possibility in situations.
- He has the commitment to make that his priority. He is ready to go beyond being ‘realistic’. He is centred, focussed and willing to work on that possibility.
- He acts: In this story in Luke 5, he acts in the face of criticism; he acts with presence of mind, knowing what he is doing, because of what is important to him.
- He invites others who do not see it for themselves, or in themselves, to live into and receive this new reality, this possibility.
In this way, I see the gift Jesus brings as a life-style of ‘what if’, a kind of living ‘as if’ this possibility is reality, and by doing so it becomes reality. This really is ‘authority and power’. But it is not based on ‘strength’, in the sense of prestige, power, might, force, money, influence, or any other kind of ‘superiority’. It simply is, being who and what he is and can be.
Can we, could I, live this way, with this simplicity of openness to what God can do?