News, Connections and Photos from the life of the faith community at CAPC Oakland
The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Army began 24 days ago. Since then we’ve been confronted with horrific images of suffering caused by intentional collateral damage as Putin seeks to make Ukraine in to Russia because they share a language and culture & economy. We’ve been re-awakened to the terrifying transactional notion of nuclear warfare, and reminded of what true heroism is and can do. Today’s scripture speaks to the underlying value and concept of power, service and community that is underneath everything happening in our world today.
Jesus teaches his life philosophy, spiritual path and way of wisdom through spoken words and bodily practice. It’s not just metaphysical but corporeal, tangible. During a holiday feast with his friends and students he assumes the place of the servant, washing the dirty feet of the guests at the meal with his own hands and clothing. This is what the servant or slave of a household would usually do to welcome guests, a sign of hospitality among people who traveled everywhere by foot with-out socks and closed toed-shoes. To be a leader, a lord, you must be a servant is what he says and does. Power isn’t power over others, nor is power found in weakness. Power is found in loving-self-service of others.
It’s a stark contrast to the world in which we live. Our notions of power in social relationships are based on the work of the renaissance Italian philosopher and first political scientist Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 –1527) in his book The Prince. Machiavelli says that, “Men are ungrateful, fickle, deceitful, cowardly and avaricious.” From this he concludes that a good leader helps create public order and maintain stability in the society, countering human nature. To do that a ruler or a monarch should aim rather to be feared than to be loved. Everyone is ambitious and power hungry by nature, so you better “get yours before someone else does.”
Later German philosopher and economist Karl Marx (1818 –1883) advanced the notion that our nature (who we are and how we live) is primarily conditioned by the social connections and world in which we live. To be a good leader than is to shape, form, determine the social world (our relationships, economy, politics, education and religion) in way that best advances the public order and maintains stability. We see streams of both Machiavelli and Marx in in the assumption of Russian President Vladimir Putin that social contexts determine our identity, this in the hyper-partisanship of our American politics which seek to destroy and cancel the opposing perspective, as well as in our transactional economy based on short-term profit at the expense of long-term stability.
Jesus offers a radically different way of being together and acting as a community for the common good. Tragically while our Western culture and world seem to claim the Way of Jesus as foundational, it doesn’t seem to truly be the case except when it’s convenient.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION & EXAMEN:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in the text?
• How does Jesus see human nature? Do you agree more with him? Machiavelli?; or Marx? Why?
• What invitation do you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you – or to us, as a church – to act, speak, be or change through this word of scripture?