- Easter 4.18 “Power” John 10:11-18
In our Gospel today we often focus on the Good Shepherd picture Jesus paints and sing lovely hymns about sheep safely grazing, green fields, quiet waters, etc. I think that’s what I’m supposed to preach about. But, to be quite honest, I’m more interested in what Jesus says about power—“No one takes My life from Me; I have power to lay it down and power to take it again.” And that sets my mind racing: what is power—real power? They say “money is power!” (but Jesus didn’t seem to have any money, and we believe He is all-powerful. Also, I wonder: if it’s also the case that “time is money”, as is often said, then is power time? And the Supreme Court says that “money is speech” but then are speech, time, and power all the same thing? That seems confused, confusing). So, why do they say “money is power”? Is it because we, in the world of late stage global capitalism, tend to think everything is for sale, so if you have an endless supply of cash, you can get whatever you want? Well… “money can’t buy you love”, they say, and people tend to think “love is everything” so there would appear to be something very valuable, essential even(!) that money can’t buy. So, maybe money isn’t power after all?
Next to (or even over Jesus) many people say the President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world. Again, I wonder why, exactly? Is it because he can start wars, destabilize the global economy, have the world quaking in its boots with his 4 am tweets? I suppose that’s power, of a sort. I suppose we think being President of the United States means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and no one can stop you. At least the current incumbent seems at times to hold this view of power, along with a very goodly number of his Twitter followers—which brings great joy to the hearts of his friends and strikes terror into the hearts of his enemies. And there’s power in that, somewhere, right?
But, even if it the President were free to run rampant now, there comes a time (sooner for some than others) when he’s out of office, like Obama, and the ability to do whatever he wants, whenever, wherever he wants, is severely curtailed. That must be kind of a bummer, a pretty big come-down. 4 or maybe 8 years of being King of the World (if Congress doesn’t remove you), and then, back to being an ordinary rich guy—though not nearly as rich as the really rich guys, maybe having to fly commercial sometimes (the horror!), well, for Obama, maybe. Trump has his own plane. Maybe that’s why he cares less about staying in office?
Anyway, I think we’re getting somewhere in figuring out this power thing. The ability to do whatever you want, whenever you want, and no one can stop you, ever, that seems like real power. But, Mary Beard’s book “SPQR” has me thinking that, of all contenders to power, the Roman Caesars would come far closer than American Presidents to being “All-Time World’s Most Powerful Men”. Because they had no term limits, and no articles of impeachment, no senate that had any real power to do anything to curtail them (they also had much bigger and more lavish palaces, absolute authority over the military, far more servants, and no limits on dipping into the treasury for their personal amusement). They did have one limitation to their power, though. Death. Death is kind of the giant party-pooper of power, as the first Caesar, Julius, discovered much to his dismay, surely. And his successors were dogged by the fear of death, assassination plots. Poisoning would become more popular than back-stabbing. Less to clean up. Less to answer for at the funeral. The Roman Papacy (the true successor of the Caesars) discovered this a long time ago and that business with JP 1 in ’78 was kinda fishy, if you believe what you read on the internet. And why wouldn’t you? I mean, why would Wikipedia or Facebook ever lie to us?
Anyway, a Roman Caesar, who would somehow be impervious to death would seem to be getting close to our idea of Real Power, right? But there’s one other limitation even to a (hypothetically) immortal Caesar: it’s shown in the old paradox, “Can God make a Rock so big He can’t lift it?” If there’s something you can’t do, then you’re not really all-powerful, are you? And here’s something even an immortal Roman-style Caesar could not do: he could never share power with anyone else. Because to give someone else power over you, to do as they please to you, would stop you from being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, right?
Jesus addresses this very problem, powerfully (you see what I did there?) at the end of our Gospel today. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. This is Jesus’ idea of power, by the way—being a Good Shepherd who absolutely cares for and tends His lambs, even to the point of giving up His life for the sheepies. Now, we don’t usually think of shepherds at the top of the list of world’s most powerful people. But Jesus does. Because His idea of power both contradicts and transcends our own, even as He subsumes it…
We think dying shows the limits of your power, proves you aren’t really all-powerful (and this, by the way, was what kept most of the Jews of the first century from believing Jesus is really the Christ—because He died, for Christ’s sake! If you can’t prevent your own death, then you don’t have real, absolute, divine power!).
But Jesus addresses this apparent difficulty: “no one takes My life from Me; but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father”. So, when Jesus lays down His life, He’s doing exactly what He wants, when He wants, how He wants and no one can stop Him! Jesus is painting inside the lines of real power here. He is not a victim. He is the High Priest making Himself an offering for us. His will is done on Golgotha, not ours, not really…
And death itself has no power over Him as it does over American Presidents, Roman Caesars, you, and me. Jesus has power over death. And He submits to death only to break its grip on us. The great power stopping the greatest and most powerful human beings cannot stop Jesus. It’s the other way around. Jesus stops death, breaks its power over us!
Because love is the greatest thing, Jesus agrees; and greater love has no one than this: than to lay down His life for His friends. And when He takes up His life again, Jesus shows Real Power over death, God’s Divine Love which is the greatest of all. That bit at the end about being commanded to do this by the Father makes it sound like Someone is more powerful than the Son. But Jesus wants to do the Father’s bidding, because of the love that binds them with the Spirit as One.
Does Power interest you? C’mon, admit it: you’re interested. To be so free—you know you want in on this, too. Well, here’s the Way: Jesus does, finalist, what no Caesar can do. He shares His absolute Power with us! and in the sharing IT only grows stronger. He gave us power to drive those nails into Him, and power to share His Cross too. All those who hear His voice, who believe His Word, know Real Power—that of Divine Love, Faith, and so conquer death, by our Savior, sharing the Peace surpassing all understanding—that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Amen.