The Temptation of Power and Control
Michael Josephson, the founder of the Character Counts Coalition, once said “Never underestimate the power of temptation to disarm your better senses.” Very true, In fact, the central message of our Orthodox Faith is the life-long reality of becoming sober and attentive.
I was recently struck by someone coming up to me to thank me for my writings and then complaining that they needed help understanding what I was trying to say! And here I thought I had been perfectly clear! Our society is gripped by addiction and inattentiveness to the point where the assumption others understand what we are trying to say when we invite them to the hard work of being Orthodox on Purpose, is actually an inattentiveness on our part. We have to face up to the truth that we cannot forget that love demands the hard work of effective communication!
Just look at the confrontation in our Gospel lesson this morning in Mark 12:13-17:
At that time, the chief priests and scribes sent to Jesus some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to entrap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
Just some background on Mark’s gospel; Mark is probably the earliest gospel (“evangelion” in Greek = Good News). St. Mark the Evangelist, as he came to be called, is the Apostle who evangelized the Çity of Alexandria in Egypt and died a martyr’s death in 68 AD. The Coptic Orthodox celebrate the Liturgy of St. Mark to this day.
Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders of the day because He represents a danger to them and the nation. You see, at this time in history, there were a lot of “messiahs” claiming to be the one to liberate Israel from the Roman yoke and restore independence for the nation. Every time one of these “messiahs” got a following the Romans put the movement down and the leaders of the Jews at the time were threatened that they better keep the peace “or else!”
So these leaders, worried about their power and fearful of instability in society, confront the Lord with a political question about loyalty to the Roman government! And Jesus answers them so wisely that they were “amazed.” Too bad their amazement didn’t quite equal waking up to just Who it was that was speaking to them!
But that is the deepest danger of addiction and inattentiveness. – blindness to the deeper reality that would actually change everything. Why do you think the evil one works so hard to keep you addicted to ways of behavior that you know consistently lead you to deeper addiction to failed outcomes? Why does the chaos of our day so set fear of either a loss of power or even a loss of life as the greatest motivation for tyrannical control? It all flows from the easy choice of power and control rather than the harder work of love and service. And all of this power and control are wrapped up in the sweet sounds of “it’s for your own good.” I’m absolutely sure this is what these leaders who confront Jesus today thought. They were doing it “for the people.” And yet, history is littered with horrible actions that were supposed to be for “your own good.”
The Faith comes to us today with a loving invitation. It is both terrifying and filled with hope. It is an invitation to actually do the hard work of knowing yourself without shame or guilt and allowing the wisdom of the Faith to set you free from the addictions and temptations that lead to dead-end choices and destructive behaviors. Instead of the empty calories of immediate gratification or ego-protecting power plays, you can choose to throw off the slavery of the fear of death and become truly free in Jesus Christ.
Today, let the words of Jesus do more than just amaze you. Embrace life in the lIght of the Life of Jesus Christ and be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Oh Lord of Glory, You made us in Your Image to become Like You SO THAT being with You forever will be joy instead of torment. I am tempted to settle for power and control, and this temptation is driven by my fear and my self-centered ego. Forgive me, Lord, and wake me up to the true freedom from internal addictions and the destruction of inattentiveness. Give me the courage to embrace this humility and sobriety by actually doing the disciplines of the Faith so I will grow up and be Like You. Amen