Father David's Reflection for Wednesday of Week Four (Ordinary Time)
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done!
(Responsorial: Psalm 32)
2Samuel 24: 2-17 bewilders us. Why would God punish David so severely—and send such suffering on his people—just because he took a census?
Our bewilderment reveals a deep and serious flaw in the way we were taught morality. David’s sin was that he was gratifying his love of power. Like a miser counting money, he wanted to gloat over how many troops he could put in the field. Even Joab tried to warn him: “Why does my lord the king want to do this?” But we were never warned against this sin or its dangers.
We were made very aware of the obvious sins: lying, stealing, uncommitted sex, etc. But no one alerted us to the greater sin, more dangerous and damaging than all the above: love of power. Those attached to power bring down destruction on themselves and on all who are affected by their exercise of authority. Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 1 It corrupts, not only those who enjoy it, but the whole community—family, institution, civil society or Church—that depends on their decisions for good government. Power by nature tends to blind the mind and deaden the heart. No one is exempt: government officials, ecclesiastical authorities, corporate executives or spouses (male or female) addicted to dominance: all are in danger. All who have power “thrust upon them” should walk in fear and trembling. Power corrupts. Those who do not fear it are probably already corrupted.
They didn’t teach us this in grade school. We are reaping the results.
God’s treatment of David was to warn us that, when authorities are in love with their power, both they and their communities suffer. In Mark 6:1-6 we see that Jesus taught this by giving the opposite example. When he
came to his hometown… many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this?… What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?
Jesus made no display of power growing up. He shunned it. The power he finally began to use in his ministry was the power to heal. And that was normally a response to faith:
He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
He was emphatic with his disciples:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…
St. Peter echoed Jesus, writing as a fellow “elder” to priests and bishops:
Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.... Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 2
We must remain aware of this. Or else.
Initiative: Measure your power over others. Ask how it makes you feel. React.
1 He wrote this in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1887, after Vatican I had declared that the Pope had absolute power in the Church.
2 Matthew 20:25-27; 1 Peter 5: 1-5.