Real power, part 2

Tomorrow, in America, is Election Day.  In years past, it was common to hear the cultural rhetoric proclaiming that the candidate elected to the presidency of the United States would become the most powerful person in the world.  I don’t hear that so much anymore, though maybe I haven’t been listening.  But it seems to me that before we as Christians head to the polls, it would be good to remind ourselves of the nature of real power.

In yesterday’s post, we looked at the story of Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin.  Jesus, who had the power of God at his disposal, had already committed himself to the way of powerlessness in Gethsemane.  Having submitted his will fully to the Father, he let himself be arrested and then dragged to the high priest for interrogation.  One can imagine Caiaphas plotting his strategy, getting frustrated when Jesus didn’t follow the script, then shouting victoriously as he tore his robes and proclaimed Jesus guilty of blasphemy.  It worked! he may have thought to himself.  I win.

The charge was based on Jesus’ response to Caiaphas’ demand to know if he was the Messiah: “From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One (literally, ‘the Power’) and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt 26:64, NIV).  From the point of view of Caiaphas and the council, Jesus was arrogating to himself a clearly messianic prophecy from Daniel:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan 7:13-14, NIV)

It’s impossible to know, of course, just how deeply Caiaphas’ memory of the prophecy went at the time; it seems likely that once he heard what sounded like sacrilege, he jumped at the opportunity without a second thought.

But one can scarcely imagine a more stunning statement of the power and authority that rightly belonged to Jesus.  Jesus knew it; Caiaphas did not, nor did those who slapped or spat upon Jesus in blind triumph.

The story reminds me of another, at the other end of the gospel of Matthew: the utterly futile plotting of Herod the Great to rid himself of the one born to be king of the Jews (Matt 2:1-18).  That episode, too, ended with a spasm of violence; perhaps Herod even convinced himself that he had won the day by the power of his iron-fisted rule.  But the very next verse simply and flatly notes that Herod died, and then the story of God’s kingdom moves on without him.

That’s what happens when power as the world knows it meets the power of God, a power that is sometimes veiled and working quietly beneath the surface of events.

Jesus was the most powerful person the Twelve had ever met.  He had power over the wind and the waves, disease and demons, even death itself.  They had their own heady visions of how that power could make their hopes and dreams into reality.  But beginning in Gethsemane, that power was veiled for the sake of a larger divine purpose that they had yet to understand.

For a time, they would despair.  But only for a time.

The American economy is still in a slump.  Hurricane Sandy has wrought devastation over a huge swath of the landscape.  Foreign policy is more complicated, more fraught with uncertain consequences, than ever before.  And so on, and so on.

The headlines blare problems, and we go to the polls looking for solutions.  Who’s got the answer?  Who has the power?

God has the power.  Even when it’s not out in the open for all to see.