I’ve been thinking a lot about power these days and how deeply I think it is misunderstood. When I am feeling most vulnerable and powerless, I look to my greatest role model, Jesus. In chapter four of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been in the desert without food for forty days and at this very vulnerable point the Devil comes to tempt him. Initially, the Devil goes right to the heart of the matter, Jesus’ physical needs and tempts him to use his power for personal gain, to turn a stone to bread and satiate his hunger. He refuses, and replies that we cannot live by bread alone. It is a choice between the discomfort of hunger, to which he in his heart knew to be temporary, and satiate a desire to show off his power over nature. That, to me anyway, is a pivotal point. He could have begun his ministry with pomp and circumstance of showing off the power to bend everything to his will and be glorified. But he didn’t. He chose to live and walk as a man, and never use his power for personal gain. Just because he could didn’t mean he should.
When I think of my own hunger, it manifests in many different kinds of deprivations, all that create discomfort. Recognizing that weakness is when I doubt and lose faith and look to try to get rid of the discomfort the easiest way possible, is the exact moment to reject these inclinations and follow Jesus’ lead. If I want to live like Jesus did, I must believe that these weaknesses are only temporary, and choosing be uncomfortable or embarrassed in this moment forces me to access my own true source of power, and satiate my spiritual hunger first. While that may soothe me spiritually and philosophically, I also know what it feels like to be in the presence of someone who plays on a weakness and dares me to prove that I’m not by a show of force. It is tempting to prove to them that I’m not what they say I am and at the same time punish them for exposing and taunting me about it. I’ve fallen into that temptation many times in the past and have used power just to prove I have it. I can truthfully say that I only felt weak afterwards. Avoiding that temptation to prove yourself to someone and to stand tall and not accept the bait is and always will be the greatest show of strength.
So how is the story of changing a stone to bread different from the wedding at Cana when Jesus was asked to change water into wine? In transforming the water into wine, he did it as a sign of who he was. In the desert, there was no one else there. The true source of power isn’t being able to transform a stone into bread or water into wine, but to know the power exists within to do these things first. Is it a subtle distinction? I think so. I really believe if Jesus would have allowed himself to be baited into making that bread, to prove himself, he would have lost it. In Cana, he didn’t really need to prove anything, he didn’t really want to make that transformation either, because he questioned whether was ready. He inevitably did it because his mother asked him to, that this was the moment to start his active ministry. Knowing you have the power to do something and doing it to prove you have it…is a sign of weakness. But using your power so do something and use it to bring others to a greater place is not. I’m sure that choice was always on Jesus mind. It isn’t always obvious if we use power to make ourselves look better or to help others. I struggle with that choice as a parent all the time. And in a time of muscle flexing and sand pissing…i.e., “my God is better than yours”, or “my political beliefs are right and yours are wrong”, or “Money buys power” etc.etc., that struggle becomes all the more difficult. We all need to entertain the possibility in any power struggle whether or not we are taking the devils bait.