Power That Saves
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
Reflections and Actions for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 50:4 – 9; James 2:14 – 18; Mark 8:27 – 35
What power does Jesus use to save us? When he revealed his plan for saving the world, it appeared to be the renunciation of all power: "undergo great suffering...be rejected ...be killed." His refusal to use divine power against evil people the way everyone expected was such a shock to the Apostles that Peter felt it was his duty to take Jesus aside and counsel him.
To understand what power Jesus chooses to use and not use, we have to be clear about his purpose. For Jesus, to "save the world" means to change people. It does not mean, first and foremost, to change the situation. This is why the divine power he chooses to use is the power of love. It is love which converts people from the heart. Any other kind of power may succeed in changing people's behavior, but only love can win people to conversion – at least to the kind of conversion God desires. Only love works.
What do we ask of a savior – any kind of savior: a politician, a new manager, a lawyer, a friend – in – need, a therapist, a doctor, a police officer? Don't we normally ask a savior to save us from something beyond our control, something we feel helpless to change? We call for a savior to come in and use some power we do not have to deliver us from something that threatens us. The savior's power may be physical strength or force; it may be knowledge; it may be technique; it may even be connections and influence with other people. But it is a power we do not have, one that can rescue.
Sometimes rescue works. If you are drowning and a lifeguard pulls you ashore, or if your heart stops and a doctor pounds it into action again, the rescuer's use of power has saved your life. But frequently rescue is an illusion. Very often, being rescued just encourages us to ignore the cause of our problem. Sometimes we ask people to save us in such a way that the cure becomes worse than the disease.
If what threatens us is due to free human actions, whether others’ actions or our own, being "rescued” by power may be an illusion. We may be saved from the immediate consequences of our own bad behavior, or from the behavior of someone who is threatening us, but if we do not do something about the cause of the bad behavior, we are only delaying disaster. The doctor who saves you from your heart attack will tell you that you will have a worse one if you do not change your diet. The therapist who pulls you through a crisis will tell you to expect another one if you do not change your attitudes. The police know they cannot stop crime by arresting criminals; generals know that military victories never bring about lasting peace; good managers know that borrowing more money is not enough to solve financial problems. But we keep depending on doctors to keep us healthy, therapists to keep us happy, the police to keep our streets safe, the military to protect national security, and on the quick fix, financial or otherwise, to solve our immediate problems. We welcome simplistic (or unscrupulous) saviors who bring in expensive equipment to fill in our graves while in fact they are digging them deeper.
Jesus is not a popular savior because he is an honest one.
He does not pretend to be saving us by using divine power to change whatever it is in society – whatever it is in other people's behavior – that is threatening us. Jesus tells us plainly that the problems in our world are due to one thing, and one thing only: that we do not love one another. If we will accept to learn from him how to love, the solutions to all our other problems will soon be obvious to us. God has given us the resources, both material and intellectual, to make human life healthy and happy on earth. But love must be our guiding principle. Selfishness destroys; love gives life.
The only power Jesus promises to use for us is the power that enables us to love as he loves. This is the only power that saves.
Reflecting on This Week's Gospels
Pray daily: Lord, I believe in you as the only true Savior of the world. Teach me to believe in the love you showed us as the only true power against evil. Teach me to love others as you have loved me.
Monday: Luke 7:1 – 10. "I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say...to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." Do you see as much need for authority in the Church as in other human endeavors?
Tuesday: Luke 7:11 – 17. He touched the coffin, and he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" How does your dying to self give Jesus the power to raise you from the dead? Is this just bodily death?
Wednesday: Luke 7:31 – 35. "[W]isdom is vindicated by all her children." Have Christians throughout history proved the value of Jesus' way of saving the world by consistently choosing love over force, and martyrdom rather than violence? How are you proving it?
Thursday: Luke 7:36 – 50. Jesus said to the Pharisee: "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Is your confidence in God's love for you based on the fact you are keeping his rules or on the experience of his forgiveness? How do you show your love?
Friday: Luke 8:1 – 3. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits, Mary, called Magdalene.... How do the sins to which you have "died" bear witness to Christ's power? To his love?
Saturday: Luke 8:4 – 15. "As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature." How would dying to the things you worry about enhance your life?
Living This Week's Gospels
As Christian: Examine the ways you are willing to sacrifice people for the sake of maintaining a better environment for yourself or others (shouting at people who are annoying, approving the death penalty, killing enemies in war to preserve democracy). Compare this with the choice Jesus made.
As Disciple: Look through the Gospels trying to find instances in which Jesus teaches it is legitimate to destroy people in order to keep them from destroying the environment or society in which other people live.
As Prophet: The next time you are in a situation in which you would normally resort to power or force in order to get something done or to prevent injustice to yourself or others, try using patience, respect and love instead.
As Priest: Go out of your way daily to show respect and love for people you live or work with so that if a conflict does arise with someone you can address it from a basis of demonstrated appreciation and care for that person. For example, consistently praise everything you can in every person you deal with.
As King: Examine the policies – established or accepted ways of acting, whether written out or not – where you live and work. Ask if any say, in effect, that maintaining a good environment for the group is more important than any particular individual. Don't oversimplify the question. (How much does a good environment have to do with the good of persons? Do we go against an individual's good by insisting on respect for the group's welfare?)