Absolute Power: A Holy Thursday Reflection

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, 1852-6, Ford Madox Brown

If you possessed a special and unique power, what would you do with it? And if you found yourself suddenly having absolute power, what would you do next?

Have you ever noticed that most stories are, one way or another, all about power? There are characters who encounter conflict, face a significant challenge, or who must go on some type of a quest, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual, and who have to accomplish something typically very difficult. They must overcome. They must rise up. And if that story has a happy ending, there is achievement, resolution, and redemption.

Over the course of those stories, there are some who demonstrate a lack of power, there are those who find power along the way, and unfortunately, in many stories, there are the ones who abuse power. There have been a lot of superhero movies lately; generally speaking, in those movies, there always seems to be somebody who seeks power for his or her own good and who, in the process of getting that power, hurts others. That happens in the movies… and it happens in real life. Look at what is taking place in Ukraine at this very moment. Fiction or non-fiction, it is almost always about… power.

Power often is used to do one of two things, whether explicitly or subtly: first, it is used to rise above others, to be in a more favorable position relative to them, and second, it is used to avoid suffering. There is something quite human about having the instinct to want power and for most of us, improving our lot and avoiding suffering would be something we would do with that power quite typically.

Which is why the Gospel reading of the Last Supper is so incredibly atypical.

The line in the Gospel that always stops me in my tracks is: “… during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God…”

You know exactly what happens next.

Jesus knew he had absolute power and that his time remaining there was extremely limited, so…

He did not put himself above the disciples; he put himself as low as he possibly could. At the level of their feet. And knowing that this was the very end, he proceeded forward… directly… toward his passion and death.

Note that in this final moment, the very last chance he was going to get to reach those disciples, the legacy he chose to leave behind was…

Not a short and meaningful story, which he did many times before with his parables – such as the one about the Good Samaritan. No, he didn’t do that.

Not a great homily, which he certainly was capable of – for example, the Sermon on the Mount. No, he didn’t do that.

Not a shock and awe miracle, which he most surely could have done right then and there to emphasize his point – we know that he healed the 10 lepers, made a blind man see again, and fed thousands with just a small amount of bread and fish. No, he didn’t do anything like that.

There were no meaningful stories, no great homilies, no big miracles. Instead, there was humility… and a surrender to suffering.

In the end, only humility and surrender.

In our own faith lives, whenever we hope to understand God, to get closer to his Son, to feel the Advocate’s presence in our lives more powerfully, we all become seekers. How do we seek? We listen for the meaningful stories, wish for a homily that moves and inspires us, and hope for a sign, a miracle.

But perhaps instead we should follow the clue that Jesus himself left us the very last time he was with us.

If you possessed a special and unique power, what would you do with it? And if you found yourself suddenly having absolute power, what would you do next?

What if we get down onto our own hands and knees in humility and surrender to his will, while leaving our own will off to the side instead?

Because in the end, humility and surrender… are just so absolutely… powerful.

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