There is so much language about flock and shepherd in the Bible. We have incorporated it into our lexicon so that we equate a church and a diocese to flocks and priests and Bishops to shepherds. I guess my question is “Where is Jesus in this hierarchy?” Is Jesus the King who owns the land? Is Jesus the sheep wholesaler? Is Jesus one of the sheep alongside us given that indeed Jesus himself was under ecclesial power and was handed over by high priests whose fear of Rome outweighed their respect for Jesus’ reputation for being among and loving and healing the people – the hoi polloi.
Wikipedia says of the word Hoi polloi (Ancient Greek: οἱ πολλοί, hoi polloi, “the many”) is an expression from Greek that means the many or, in the strictest sense, the majority. In English, it has been corrupted by giving it a negative connotation to signify deprecation of the working class, commoners, the masses or common people in a derogatory or, more often today, ironic sense. Synonyms for hoi polloi, which also express the same or similar distaste for the common people felt by those who believe themselves to be superior, include “the great unwashed,” “the plebeians” or “plebs,” “the rabble,” “the dregs of society,” “riffraff,” “the herd,” “the canaille,” “the proles” (proletariat) and “peons”.
The day I could see that my brothers considered the people who came to the monastery “the hoi polloi” was the day I began to pack my bags. Such a sad day, because I really wanted to be a monk.
I suppose power is going to be part of any life, even in church. In her groundbreaking book “Power: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
” (http://www.amazon.com/Presence-Bringing-Boldest-Biggest-Challenges/dp/0316256579) Amy Cuddy tells us that power is something we bring to the table from the inside, and is deeply influenced by the cortisone and testosterone combinations in our bloodstream.
One wonders if God might not have something to do with all this. How did Jesus have so much power in the face of the high priests (especially as John’s gospel tells the story – watch “The Gospel of John” on Netflix for that reality) whose decision to curry favor with Rome would lead to Jesus’ torture and death? How could Jesus stand there, a nobody with a nobody family from a nobody town – just another zealot for the poor and the marginalized – and let power malign his reputation, misdiagnose his mission, abandon law, torture and execute in the most horrific, public way possible, a man who loved the people and wandered among them offering hope, touch and healing? How could Jesus let that happen?
In Easter season I am wondering about what this one small man accomplished in the resurrection. Why did it all matter? Was it just a series of liturgies? Was it all just a play, unfolding on a church stage and leading to brunch? Or was Jesus showing us what real power means – what real power looks like.
We, all of us, face power all the time. The police officer by your car on a deserted road when you were speeding. The third grade teacher whose marriage is collapsing and so is unkind in the classroom. The mother-in-law or father-in-law whose age and perhaps financial wealth gives his or her voice and vote but for whom giving up his or her child to a new phase of life, curdles kindness. The tax collector who disagrees with your math. The bitter artist-turned night-shift hotel receptionist who has no record of your reservation late at night in a distant hotel-less place. The spouse whose insecurities lend them to violence. The list goes on and on.
So if I were to retrace my steps to Jesus, what I see of Jesus in the Bible is that Jesus spends a lot of time in prayer. In other words, Jesus sits with penultimate power, in the early-morning darkness and in what we call “prayer.” Jesus hikes up mountains in the dark, sits there alone and listens with God. What does Jesus “download” in those sessions? The gospels say Jesus downloads direction or what we in the church call “discernment” – or “God’s opinion for our lives.” What if God has an opinion? And what if that opinion or hope for our lives is different than ours? What then? And what if the time we spend with God in that vulnerable conversation is the way God shares power – real power – not the tawdry mess of earthly kingdoms and earthy powers. What does “thy kingdom come” really mean and do we mean that?
What if power comes from spending time with a loving, mischievous, compassionate God? It may not be the right currency for our earthly systems – like having pesos when pounds sterling are required – but what if our currency is found in God, with God? What if the message of the resurrection that there is a new currency, that it is ours for the taking, that it will not buy us what we want, but it will make us rich in kindness, authenticity, integrity, gentleness, openness, vulnerability, self-offering? It would take great courage to plug into a new kind of power. But what if that is what it means to be a Christian and not just be christianish?
What if Jesus is the shepherd, with those life-bearing, feminine hips which made this icon so powerful and so dangerous in its day? And what if the rest of us are sheep, wolves and sheepdogs? All of us. What if that is what is true? What if we have pesos and simply need to discern where they buy what we really need?