By Rev. Joseph Yoo
The anticipation is over. The final season of Game of Thrones has begun and we will see who sits on the Iron Throne to rule the Seven Kingdoms. We've witnessed, for seven seasons, characters maneuvering to gain more and more power — particularly those vying for the Throne.
Power, in Westeros, is having someone under you; someone to rule over; to have subjects — to have people bend the knee towards you.
Either you submit to their authority — or you die. Simple.
It's similar to how we view power, isn't it? At least little bit.
What's the point of having power if you can't flex it?
We all cringe at people who scream stupid things like, "Do you know who I am??" Or even worse, "Don't you know who my father is?" But also — we might relish the chance to use whatever power we may yield over someone. We feel powerful when we can exert power over someone or something. Power is so closely tied to authority for many of us.
Even we Christians are seduced by this kind of power.
I think — speaking solely for myself — current times have shown me how Christians can be seduced by power more than anything else. We have contorted and distorted the words of Jesus to fit political affiliations.
But also, I've heard so many people leaving the church because the leaders abused spiritual power for personal gain.
Because what does Jesus say about power?
Well, in Matthew (chapter 20), a request was made to Jesus by the mother of James and John.
She asked that when Jesus came into power that her two boys would sit next to him on his throne.
The mother — like everyone else — thought Jesus was going to lead a coup. That the Anointed One was coming to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish the Kingdom of Israel once more — having others bending their knee towards them. Their people were so exhausted of always bending their knee.
She (probably with everyone else) assumed Jesus would be sitting on a throne. That's what the most powerful people do. And she wanted her boys to be sitting on the throne with him.
I find the whole scene comical: Like, the boys couldn't ask Jesus themselves? They had to involve their mom? The boys were with her when she asked Jesus. Jesus turned to them and asked, "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"
Now, mind you, this scene came right after Jesus predicted his death for the third time.
The request eventually was discovered by the rest of the disciples. It made them upset, maybe partly due to the fact that they never thought of asking Jesus themselves. But mostly because they felt they should have that kind of power.
Power is intoxicating and seductive. Human lives are reduced to pawns — as we see in Game of Thrones and, worse, in the news — for people grabbing power. Power is like money. Someone once asked John Rockefeller, "How much money is enough money?" He responded, "Just a little bit more."
How much power is enough power? Humanity has shown us, just a little bit more.
The disciples probably argued amongst one another after finding out about James's and John's request. Jesus — eyes probably rolling — called them together and said this (Matthew 20:25-28):
You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that's not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave— just as the Human One didn't come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people. (emphasis added)
We view power as something to wield to lift ourselves up.
Jesus views power as something to lift others up.
True power, seemingly for Jesus, doesn't benefit the wielded, but those around her/him. While the characters of Game of Throne devote their time, resources, and energy to gain more and more power (not so much different from us today), Jesus devotes his time and teaching telling us to give our power away. Jesus teaches us to use power not to dominate, but to serve. Jesus tells us to use power not to control, but to love.
He spends a lot of his time teaching us to forgive. When we forgive, we give our power away. We give up our right to retaliate. We give up our higher ground for the sake of love and relationship. Forgiveness is rarely associated with power.
In fact, many Christians carry on our body a cross. The cross symbolizes the height of Jesus' (God incarnate!!!) utter powerlessness. Because the executed is never viewed to have power. This was something done to them.
Yet, even those who believe in the power of the cross often don't take the time to reflect on being powerless.
We claim that God uses the weak to lead the strong — but we don't like embracing weakness for ourselves. We don't like the feeling of being weak. We don't like the feeling of powerlessness. We don't like not being in control. When confronted with those feelings, we often overcompensate for the little power that we do have. Yet Jesus, being God-Incarnate, embraced powerlessness. And he asks us to do the same.
In Westeros (and on planet Earth), power is to be gained and accumulated to lift ourselves up. Yet in the Kingdom of God, power is to be given away to lift up those around us. Jesus continues to show us a different way — the best way — to live.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves as an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church Pearland. Find more of his writings at josephyoo.com
[Published April 23, 2019]