Summary: “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely..."
“Speaking truth to power”
Saint of God,
We are taking our time reexamining the historical Jesus in the light of His life and sayings. What did He really mean? And what should we make of the fact that millions around the world have died for this man who called Himself “the Son of Humanity”?
We have looked briefly at the attitude He had towards wealth, not that it was necessary for everyone to be rich but that is was a gift of God's to be shared with those who had less. He wanted those He spoke to, to understand that riches could overtake one and become an enemy of the spirit.
Within the gospels though they make it clear that riches are and can be used to oppress those with less of the necessities of life, they raise an even more urgent warning against power, and especially against spiritual power. Repeatedly Jesus rebukes the followers who jocky for authority over each other and over others. Lord John Dalberg-Acton who was was an English Catholic historian, politician, and writersaid of spiritual power
“All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
When asked who would be the greatest in the reign of God, Jesus said “Then whoever will humble himself as this little child, this one is the greater in the kingdom of Heaven. And whoever will receive one such little child in My name receives Me. “(Matthew 18:4-5)
Again, when they argued over their precedence, He said “And sitting, He called the Twelve and said to them, If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”(Mark 9:35) The guiding rule for a follower of Jesus is to avoid high rank. For everyone exalting himself will be humbled, and the one humbling himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11). There could not be a clearer injunction against hierarchy of any kind. “the last will be first and the first last”
But do not you be called Rabbi, for One is your Leader, the Christ, and you are all brothers. And call no one your father on earth, for One is your Father, the One in Heaven. Nor be called leaders, for One is your Leader, the Christ. (Matthew 23:8-10)
Above all, Jesus attacks the arrogance of the spiritual leaders of His time. There is is no reason to think this was a special attack on the Jewish religion. He would apply the same standards to every religion , including the ones later invoking His Name. All three ranks of spiritual leadership of His time were arraigned by Jesus - the noble and priestly Sadducees, the zealous lay leaders the Pharisees, and the learned Scribes. He scorches them. He flays them (Matthew 23:1-7, 13-16, 23-24,)
Jesus was never afraid to speak Truth to Power. In fact, as we have seen , He addressed the most revered men of His day, the elders and chief priest of the Temple this way “ Which of the two did the will of the father? They said to Him, The first. Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, The tax collectors and the harlots go before you into the kingdom of God. (Matthew 21:31) the complement to that fact is what He told His followers: “For I say to you, If your righteousness shall not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of God, never!” (Matthew 5:20)
It was the pride and ostentation of POWER that Jesus rebuked in spiritual leaders. (Luke 18:10-14). Even when Jesus was not openly denouncing the powers of His day, many of His parables were aimed indirectly at undermining their pretensions-as they realized: “And hearing His parables, the chief priests and the Pharisees knew that He was speaking about them”. (Matthew 21:45)
Of course Jesus did not condemn all Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes. Some Pharisees defended Him (Lk 13:31) One of them, Nicodemus quietly sought His direction (John 3:2). Some Scribes, too joined with Him (Mt. 8:19 ). And He speaks of the wise scribe in Matthew 13:52. In the Acts of the Apostles we learn that certain Pharisees were part of His early movement Acts 5:34. A large number of priests also joined His followers. (Acts 6:7 ). These men obviously saw beyond the formalism of worship. For Gentle Reader, it is not the power that rules nor the formalism that worships God (men worshiping men that replaced worshiping God-even to this day!)
To be continued . . .