Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. –Philippians 2. 5-8 NRSV
Today is Good Friday. As usual, I find myself contemplating all the events surrounding the arrest, trial, execution and death of Jesus. As I think about the political and religious authorities and the people, even some of Jesus’ closest companions, complicit in the violence against Jesus, I can’t help but think of the words of Roman Catholic priest, theologian and professor, Henri J. M. Nouwen, when he wrote:
Authority and obedience can never be divided, with some people having all the authority while others have only to obey. . . It perverts authority as well as obedience. A person with great authority who has nobody to be obedient to is in great spiritual danger. A very obedient person who has no authority over anyone is equally in danger.
Nouwen pointed out that Jesus taught, healed, and lived with great authority, but his whole life was complete obedience to God, as when Jesus, said, “Abba, let it be as you, not I, would have it” (Matthew 26.39). The Apostle Paul also points to Jesus’ full and complete obedience to God quoting the Christological hymn already being sung in his day, that Jesus, “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
I can’t help but believe that now, as bombs drop and sabers rattle, and people, who have the least authority are being increasingly marginalized by decisions being made by the leadership of our country, that Jesus is weeping. Surely it is time for those of us who follow in Jesus’ way, seeking to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, who strive for peace in our world – peace of mind and heart, but also peace among all people and nations, and who value and love God’s creation, need to call our elected and appointed leaders, those in authority to be obedient to the greater good for all, not just for some and not just for our nation.
It is startling to know that yesterday, Holy Thursday, the day that we remember Jesus telling us to “love one another as I have loved you,” that our nation’s military chose to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb we have in our vast arsenal on the country of Afghanistan. On our holiest of days violence was done in our name.
On that same day, in a private ceremony, a bill making it possible for the states of our nation to pull funding for various health organizations, primarily Planned Parenthood, that serve the poorest of women with their health needs, was signed into law. And what was it Jesus taught us, “you did it to the least of these?”
I could go on, but you watch the news, you know what is happening. Things done under the cover of darkness and behind closed doors in our name surely ought to make us think about the words of Nouwen again, and the questions he raises at the end of his writing on authority and obedience, “Do we live our authority in obedience and do we live our obedience with authority?”
On this Good Friday, remembering the life and death of Jesus Christ reminds us that the powers and principalities of this world are still at work today. Fortunately, today is not the end of the story. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we will celebrate on Sunday morning, April 16, is a reminder that our Creator God, our Redeemer Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit our Guide and Comforter has a different vision for our world. Perhaps more than ever we need to remember Nouwen’s words again (the italics are mine), “A people with great authority who have nobody to be obedient to are in great spiritual danger.” Then it is incumbent upon people of faith and people of good will and people committed for the common good for all people and for creation must call ourselves and our leaders to a higher moral authority.
To do nothing, to say nothing can only mean that our Jesus, who had an affinity for the poor and the marginalized, who is called the Prince of Peace, is crucified once again.
Ah, Holy Jesus, call to us across time and space, challenge us to rise up and seek to live our lives in obedience to God so that the authority that is given us is used with wisdom and compassion. Amen.