A Reversal of Power

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
Ezra 10:1-17
Acts 24:10-21
Luke 14:12-24

A Reversal of Power

My seven-year-old son is in his fourth year of “competitive” soccer. For the first three years every concept used to describe what we witnessed should really have been put in scare quotes. It wasn’t really soccer. It was “soccer.” Most of the time the collection of kids following the ball looked more like an amoeba shifting around the “pitch.” “Loosely structured group-play time,” I remember calling it. Don’t get me wrong, it was a total riot. Lots of laughter from the parents, lots of fun from the kids.

Well, this year something has changed. The boys look older. They’re more in control of their bodies. They pass the ball with purpose. They look up to find a man to defend. The parents have gone from being “fans” to being fans. What we witness on early Saturday mornings is often thrilling and sometimes produces what I think can be called genuine excitement.

With all this positive change, however, there has been something of a loss of innocence. No matter what the parents say, for the kids, there is a score. Which of course means at the end of the game there will be a winner and there will be a loser. This the children know and this they let burn in their hearts.

During a game a few weeks ago the opposing team decided to install a goalie, which as all the kids and parent know, is strictly against the rules. Like a virus this aberration in group norms quickly consumed the team. They decided to fight fire with fire: if they’re going to have a goalie, so will we. The tension continued to mount, tempers began to flare. By the end of the game everyone left defeated.

Sure enough the very next week we played the same team and the same scenario began to unfold. But this time our coach walked over to the other coach and laid grounds for peace. He called our players together and told them he didn’t know what the other team would do. “But no matter what,” he said, “I want you guys to have fun out there. Encourage each other, encourage the other team. Don’t hold back, play hard!” After a few minutes of anxiety, fun returned. These reassuring words proved antiviral. The kids looked like they had been freed. Not only did they leave the game with their hearts uplifted, they played better.

In the gospel today, Jesus tells a story of a patron who invites many to a great feast. They represent the power and wealth of the community. But none come. So he instructs his servant to go into the “streets and lanes of the town” and “bring in the poor, crippled, and the lame.” This thread runs throughout our sacred scriptures. The overturning of perceived power and authority. Paul writes that it is in Jesus’ weakness—in his self-emptying—that his glory is to be found.

This wisdom was on full display in that soccer game. Our innate tendency is to think that aggression must be met with aggression. It’s something those kids reacted to intuitively but it is something that for Jesus carries the smell of death. For Jesus the great banquet will be populated with the least among us. In that weakness—in that devaluing of what the world considers greatest for that which the world cares not—there is the glory of God. And it is for this that the gospel calls us today.

Written by Joshua Daniel, Ph.D.

Joshua is serving as St. Paul’s seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, where he (God willing) is in his final year of graduate school. He can be reached at jtkdaniel@gmail.com.

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