I’ve ended up doing things I never imagined. Like living in Dallas. Being a mother. Becoming a Christian. Or a writer and preacher. I surely never thought I’d be standing before a group of powerful men encouraging them to use their power to empower those without power.
But that’s what occurred on December 3rd.
I’m mindful of how so many of us want to lead like James and John. To simply exchange power for power, but Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36) In Matthew 20 there’s a story of their mom jockeying for position for her sons. She asked Jesus, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”(Matthews 20:21) Mama and her boys were expecting a switcheroo, a “divine reversal where God obliterated the mighty and powerful [so] the lowly could achieve the positions of honor and privilege to which they previously had no access.”
Their vision of Jesus’ kingdom was one of the same as it already was but with one minor change – now they are the ones with status, power, and prestige. However Jesus didn’t come to reorganize; rather he came to make all things new. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, (John 18:36) meaning it’s not going to operate like you think it is. It isn’t a society of scarcity where one’s gain is another person’s loss, where one moves ahead and the other moves back in the line. In the world’s view, James and John were “back of the line” people, no bodies from nowhere. Except in Jesus’ kingdom society they were his inner circle, they walked with God in the flesh, and they are going to be commissioned with carrying forth Jesus’ redemptive mission for the world – kind of a big deal.
But instead of seeing this incredible privilege, high position, and unlimited power, they focused on two seats. They set their eyes on the smaller things; the things the world said brought status, power, and position. I resemble them more than I’d like to admit. I too forgot that I am an image bearer, and in my own shade of color I am God’s redemptive agent in this world. This is what Peter means when he says of you and me, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Later on in the story the disciples learn that mama has been promoting her sons for the seats and they aren’t happy, probably because they didn’t think of it first. This is when Jesus tells them, once again, that in his kingdom society things will be different. Those who follow him will not lead like those of their times, instead of clawing one’s way to the top, instead of using them for their own gain, in his society people will use their privilege, position, and power “to do what Jesus did”, (Philippians 2:5-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 1:20) empower those without power. To ennoble. To bring light to darkness. To bring life from dead things. (Matthew 20: 22-29)
On December 3rd I found myself preaching in South Sudan. Men, women, and children who had endured two years of civil unrest sat waiting for a message of hope. And alongside them also sat the Governor and his cabinet members. At the end of my message on Mary, the mother of Jesus, I was able to walk to the front of the church where the governor and his cabinet members sat. (Think Governor Abbott and his executive branch.) I was able to encourage them and to thank them for being men who lead like Jesus.
They are fighting for peace, shalom for their people and land. Choosing to lead like Jesus isn’t easy. In fact, it’s costly. Self sacrificing. Forgoing self-ambitions and desires. For these men and women, it meant they wouldn’t choose to feed and clothe their own families at the expense of everyone else. They would choose to get gasoline (a scarce commodity) the way everyone else goes about getting it. They could easily grab power, resources, and money for their own gain. To better themselves and their wife and kids at the expense of the rest. In light of the bleak situation, we’d hardly blame them. But they reframe for the betterment of the whole community. I thanked them and then I beseeched them, “Please continue to lead like Jesus.” Otherwise, there will be continued civil unrest.
I landed in the USA with the news blasting about powerful men sexually exploiting women. Politicians grooming young girls like pimps who sex traffic girls, powerful media moguls forcing themselves on young women who desperately want to “make it in their field.” I want peace in South Sudan and that is largely dependent on leaders using power to empower those without power.
And I want women in the US and around the globe to feel safe and able to flourish. I want my daughter to be able to walk on a college campus or climb the corporate ladder without having to be groped, raped or masturbated upon. I want her to have the freedom to walk safely about and to pursue her God-given talent and bring her full self to life’s table. She, along with so many other women, have such beautiful things to contribute to our society. But their being able to do so fully and freely is dependent on men in power using their power like Jesus.
I woke this morning to Alabama electing their first Democrat to the Senate in 25 years. I don’t align myself with either party but I am a woman. And I have to say, I woke with a sense of relief. At least we said #metoo matters. A shot has been fired over the bow. A shot that says, “It’s not okay to sexually exploit our women and girls.” Afterall, we too are God’s image bearers.