The weekend that I’m writing this blog, the Church is ablaze in red to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The verse that first jumps into my mind is from the Book of Acts 1:8. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he encouraged his disciples with this promise: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…”
Jesus wants us to have power. But what kind? We see examples of power used for good and evil everywhere we turn. Our society has a fascination with power, how to get it, who has it, how they use it, what they get with it. As Christians, our model for power must be Jesus.
In Hans-Ruedi Weber’s book Power: Focus for a Biblical Theology, he sums it up neatly. “Jesus made a total abdication of power as power is traditionally understood. He did so in order to endow us with a new kind of power…Jesus transforms the love of power into the power of love.” (p. 167)
In my parish pastoral ministry, sometimes I observe powerlessness in those I serve. Sometimes it is me who feels powerless. But it is not like Jesus’ chosen vulnerability for the sake of love. It is more like fear and paralysis in the face of life’s challenges. In the gospel healing stories, we see Jesus using his power to empower others to live more fully. In a number of those stories, Jesus tells the ill or paralyzed person to “stand up.” That verb in the Greek language in which the gospels were written can also be translated as “awaken,” or “rise” as from sleep, obscurity, inactivity, disease, or death. Jesus’ words had power to awaken and transform. They still do. It is his will that we stand up to our full potential, dignity, and strength of character. With the powerful love of Christ, we also can empower others to stand up.
Meditating on and praying with those gospel healing stories helps me when I feel powerless. As I read the gospel text, I place myself in the story where I encounter Jesus. I hear him speaking those words to me. I may stay with that same story for days, weeks, or even months. The power of Jesus’ words to me and his loving presence enable me to stand up again.
If you want to reflect more on how Jesus used power, I refer you again to Weber’s book. He traces 6 biblical traditions – 6 sides of a prism – of how Jesus had power in his person and ministry. First, Jesus came as the new Moses with his exodus to freedom and God’s new covenant. Second, he was the new David, the good shepherd, the messianic king enthroned on the cross. Third, Jesus was God’s wisdom in fleshed. Fourth, Jesus was the great High Priest who offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice. Fifth, he “became poor that we might become rich,” and proclaimed good news to the poor. Sixth, Jesus is the risen Lord, at the right hand of the Father, whose eternal kingdom of justice and righteousness is both already and not yet.
May the Holy Spirit set us all ablaze with Pentecost power in our lives, in the church, and in our world. May Christ’s love empower us to stand up and carry his love to others.
By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB