Pentecost 15B, 2000
Mark 9: 30-38
IT’S A ‘DOG-EAT-DOG’ WORLD OF POWER... OR IS IT?
What an interesting and modern story (Mark 9:30-38).
A story about relationships.
A story about the potential use and abuse of status or power.
It reminds me of another story.
A well known Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a large multi-national company
suggested two of his brightest young executives be considered for rapid promotion.
They were so creative and so intelligent and so hard working.
They deserved to be rewarded.
Everyone knew, including the executives whom the CEO had passed over,
that one or the other of them would be the next CEO.
One, we will call Fred, was appointed General Manager of the company.
The other, we will call Harry, was appointed deputy CEO.
They had been close friends for 20 years and their combined talents and dedication
had in part been responsible for the rapid growth of the firm.
However, once it became clear to both of them
that only one could win the top job,
they began to try to undermine one another.
Their friendship ended.
Their spouses stopped speaking to one another though they had been friends too.
The other executives enjoyed the power struggle
and plotted how they could undermine both of them.
Now the big problem was the two stopped co-operating with one another.
And that co-operation had been a key to much of the firm’s success.
Sales fell off, a little a first and then quite dramatically.
The shareholders, as you can imagine, didn't like that at all.
Two months before the current CEO was to retire,
the Board of Directors intervened and fired him.
Then they brought in a new CEO from another company.
Everyone said that if the two had only co-operated,
as they had in the past, both would have won.
And the fact that it is Fred and Harry rather than Fran and Harry,
is also another ‘power’ story.
A colleague of mine reminded me of another story.
Of an incident in the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
He was apparently walking one day past a construction site,
on a temporary footpath, the width of only one person.
A white man appeared at the other end, recognised Tutu and said:
"I don't give way to gorillas".
At which Tutu stepped aside, made a deep sweeping gesture, and said,
"Ah yes, but I do".
And can't you see the twinkle in the Tutu's eyes as he did that?
Wouldn't you love to be able to think as quick as that?
What a way to confront power and arrogance!
A blatant racist put-down intended to deny and destroy dignity,
being turned back by wit and a non-violent compliance
that preserved Tutu's dignity
and challenged the claimed power of the oppressor.
Two disciples are arguing about which of them is the greatest.
According to the storyteller Mark, Jesus doesn’t take the prevailing social view.
Rather, he takes their dispute and turns it unexpectedly on its head.
He holds up a child, a symbol of vulnerability and powerlessness...
“whoever welcomes one such child welcomes me.”
Jesus contrasts the disciples’ quest for power
with an assertion that only those who accept the powerless
and vulnerable will receive God.
But let’s get real, we hear! It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
People are pitted one against the other.
The strong survive. The weak perish.
Sometimes it is.
Most of the time, thankfully, it isn’t.
But maybe because this debate always seems to be cast
in the ‘power’ verses ‘powerlessness’ arena,
we tend to end up in a no win situation.
What if there is another way of looking at ‘power’?
There is. And I can only be suggestive this morning as to this thinking.
Several people who work out of a way of thinking called ‘process theology’
have made what I feel are helpful comments.
They talk about ‘unilateral’ power and ‘relational’ power (Loomer).
seems to be about seeking to influence others
in order to advance our own purposes.
It pits individuals and groups against other individuals and groups.
It implies the gain in power of the one,
means the loss of power in the other.
Fred and Harry were in the arena called unilateral power.
Perhaps the two disciples also were in that arena.
And I weep when some church debates
operate out of this arena.
seems to be about having the ability
to both absorb and exert an influence,
to influence others and to be influenced by others.
It means relationships play a constructive role
in the creation of individuals and groups
and in their subsequent freedom to be themselves.
Mark’s Jesus seems to be in the arena called relational power.
One of those process theologians, John Cobb, suggests this:
“The power to expand the freedom of other people is a very different kind of power from the power to overpower other people and compel them or force them to do something that you have pre-decided you want done”.
Today is Social Justice Sunday.
And the symbol of Social Justice Sunday this year is the fruit, quandong.
For the quandong to survive it must seek out a host plant.
While it gains water and nutrients from the host plant
it does not overpower or destroy this plant.
Indeed it protects it from the risks of nitrate poisoning
and contributes to the repair and flourishing of both plants.
Like the quandong tree, our life - both personal and as a church – is
built in relationships with others.
The important question for this Social Justice Sunday is,
I respectfully suggest:
will our relationships be based on
unilateral power or relational power?
Loomer, B. M. 1976. “Two conceptions of power” in Process Studies 6, 1, 5-32.