Imagine Shakespeare were now writing. What storylines (Tragedy? Comedy?) might he find in the ongoing drama in Washington, D.C.? Nearly every presidential contender, and there is a battlefield full of them, is in high dudgeon. Accusations fly like arrows in a Peter Jackson movie.
There are Hamlet-like duplicities, Macbeth-like rants, and King Lear-like bouts of self-pity. Katherina-like egos and Richard-like self-absorption dot the stage. Shakespeare would soon find a donkey-headed Bottom braying in the halls of Congress. Maybe a stable-full of them.
What seems to be rare – in Washington and in Shakespeare – is the person who acts deliberately for good; who quietly and thoughtfully pursues what is best. Of course, Washington has such people, acting from minds shaped by truth and characters formed in virtue, but we infrequently hear about them and, more infrequently still, hear from them. Washington is a power center, and the quest for power seldom coexists with self-forgetful, others-centered leadership.
The four-year struggle for power that is part of our system of government means that we will have constant revivals of this same power-play. This is of course not unique to our system of government nor our time in history. Think of Theresa May in the U.K. Think of Julius Caesar. Think of Jesus.
Jesus? We may not at first think of Jesus as a character in a political power play but he certainly was. He was the deliberate one, placing God’s interests and people’s good above party loyalty, and he suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous (and outraged) men because of it. As soon as the effort to coopt his abilities failed, the effort to eradicate his influence began. The will to power and the predisposition to anger seem to go hand in hand.
Among Jesus’s most vocal critics were the Pharisees. The group, which had emerged during the intertestamental years, was an influential actor in Israel by the time Jesus came on the scene. The Pharisees practically owned the synagogues, which were the center of Jewish life and thought in the first century.
With Jesus’s meteoric rise in popularity, the Pharisees sent envoys to learn what he was all about. Because he seemed to share a worldview with them, some Pharisees initially treated Jesus as an ally. That was short-lived. It soon became apparent that Jesus did not share some of the group’s fundamental commitments. His public disregard for one of their principal issues and his disagreement with the thinking that lay behind it led party leaders to label Jesus an adversary.
One early conflict is telling. The Pharisees’ signature issue was support for traditional Sabbath regulations. When Jesus, who understood the intent of the law differently, healed a man on a Sabbath day (after lecturing the Pharisees about proper Sabbath conduct), they were outraged. St. Luke writes: “…they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.”
“Furious” is an English rendering of a word that means “without thought.” The Pharisees, having been publicly reproved, reacted in a blind rage. There was no thoughtful pursuit of what was best, just unthinking malice. Latin has an evocative word for this state: “demens” – “demented”; “out of one’s mind.”
The hostility toward Jesus grew as time went by but he did not let the conflicts sidetrack him. He did not become “demented”; was not robbed of his reason. He continued doing the right thing for the right reasons, regardless of what his adversaries said or did.
He was able to do this because he was confident in the truth and in the God of truth. Had he been power-hungry, he would not have possessed this confidence. It is a delightful paradox: the one who had ultimate power by right refused to do wrong in order to exercise that power. The power-hungry devour those around them. The truly powerful do just the opposite: they nurture and empower them.
Christians must learn to think of power as Jesus did. Because he understood that power belongs to God, he never compromised in pursuing God’s interests and others’ best. He didn’t make the mistake, so often made, of thinking he had to do wrong to make things right. His is the attitude that is needed today.
Let some modern-day bard write about that.
First Published by Gatehouse Media