(The Nationalist, 4 February 2005)
Jesus was a man. He wasn’t pretending to be a man, acting out the role but secretly having the trump card of divinity up his sleeve all the time. He was tempted, as we are, to do wrong, to make choices that were immoral. Alone in the desert, he was tempted to use possessions, popularity and power to achieve the mission that God had given him.
Jesus rejected the role of celebrity. He rejected the temptation to use power for himself. He believed that power was to be used only as an instrument of service, not of self- aggrandizement. Essentially, the temptation was to achieve his goal through the assertion of divine power rather than through the acceptance of human weakness.
It’s a temptation which the followers of Jesus are challenged by again and again. Sometimes, in its history, the church has been tempted to turn religion into a control system. Instead of rejecting that as a temptation, it has at times welcomed it as a rôle, persuading itself that it was for people’s good. It chose the path of power, seeing it as a short-cut, a quick fix. An example is the fire-and-brimstone preaching that used religion as a way of frightening people into compliance. That was an abuse of religion as well as of people. It was a failure to learn from the temptations of Jesus in the desert. It alienates people and leaves behind sour memories.
Saint Peter was into the power game. He said to Jesus that he should not suffer and die: ‘Lord, this must not happen to you’. Jesus answered, ‘Get behind me, Satan, you are an obstacle in my path; the way you think is not God’s way but man’s’. (Matthew 16.23) Those who wish to do the work of Jesus must use only the methods of Jesus.
The abuse of power happens only if we let it happen. How true it is that, ‘The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed’. By contrast, Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. (John 10.10) He came to free people, to liberate their minds and hearts from all that bound them. For Jesus, what mattered was not the love of power but the power of love.