“‘Two glad Services are ours,
Both the Master loves to bless:
First we serve with all our powers
Then with all our helplessness.'”
“Those lines of Charles Fox have rung in my head this last fortnight – and they link on with the wonderful words ‘weak with Him.’ For the world’s salvation was not wrought out by the three years in which He went about doing good, but in the three hours of darkness in which He hung, stripped and nailed, in uttermost exhaustion of spirit, soul and body – till His heart broke. So little wonder for us if the price of power is weakness.” 27 October 1924
An armful of fresh flowers – “the wonderful deep crimson vetch that the French say first grew on Calvary” – inspired Lilias to capture a single sprig in watercolor. Her exquisite painting prompts this week’s reflection as the church visible approaches the commemoration of Holy Week – the last week of Christ’s life leading to Calvary.
How can we approach the account of Christ’s impending death without wondering: “What if He had lived a longer life on earth?” Think of all the good He accomplished in three years of ministry. Healing the sick. . . feeding the hungry. . . restoring dignity to the outcast . . . raising the dead. . . meeting the human heart at its point of need. . . . Think of the host of people who could have been touched by His Hands and His heart. Imagine the sheer number of people who would have rallied to His Kingdom Purposes.
Fact is, during his years of ministry, Jesus continually played down His power, discouraging people from broadcasting His works or acclaiming His name. He even silenced the three disciples who witnessed His celestial glory in the transfiguration.
It was not until the glory seemingly had passed and He appeared most vulnerable that Christ spoke, acknowledging explicitly His Kingship and implicitly His Divinity. Walter Wangerin in his Lenten reflections, Reliving The Passion, challenges: “Christian, come and look closely: it is when Jesus is humiliated, most seeming weak, bound and despised and alone and defeated that he finally answer the question, ‘Are you the Christ?’ Now, for the record, yes: I am. It is only in incontrovertible powerlessness that he finally links himself with power: ‘And you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power.'”
Yes, He could have lived longer. Despite the furor created by His very presence, God could have stayed the onslaught of His enemies. After all God is all-powerful. Omnipotent.
The over-ruling reality remains: The central purpose of Christ’s mission on earth was to die. Without His death there could be no resurrection life – for Him, for us. Without Good Friday there would be no Easter. “The price of power is weakness.”
All the good He did on earth, even at the height of His greatness (as we assess greatness) didn’t compare with what He accomplished at the apparent point of defeat. It can be said without the slightest trace of exaggeration: “The price of power is weakness.”
What does this say to the so-called sanctified view of power often held by the church signified by size, structure and program? More to the point, what does it say to me? Surely God asks – and blesses – service given from our strength: the fruit of all our powers. Stewardship. But perhaps an even greater service – one He especially blesses with His love and His power – is born out of our helplessness. Weakness. “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve. . . .” (11 Corinthians 13:4)
Paul’s challenge to the early church, beginning with Christ’s Incarnation and culminating at the Cross, holds to this very day:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death –
even death on a cross!”
“So little wonder for us if the price of power is weakness.”
Painting: Diary 1904