Tag Archives: Systemic

When Systemic Power is Threatened

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13 (NIV)

There’s a lot of talk these days about “the swamp.” For Americans, this typically references what is perceived as the professional political class who corruptly rule from Washington D.C. oblivious to the day-to-day thoughts and concerned of the millions who carry on life outside the beltway. In the days of Jesus, Jews could easily have called the Temple in Jerusalem “the swamp.”

For Jewish people living in and around Jerusalem life revolved around the Temple. Not only was it the center of their religion, the only place where sacrifices and offerings were made, but it was also the center of political power. Life was dictated from the religious ruling class of priests and leaders in the temple who interpreted the law of Moses and told people what they could and couldn’t do. These priests, rabbis, lawyers, and scholars ruled over the people and claimed God’s authority for doing so. In reality, these guys had a great racket going. It was a system of power and corruption. They used their power to make themselves rich, lord over the common people, and consolidate their power and positions.

So it was that in today’s chapter, Peter and John’s healing of the crippled man and their bold proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection created a threat, a political threat, to the ruling religious class.

First, it threatened the priests own power and authority to have “unschooled, ordinary men” preaching so boldly. The religious leaders wanted common people thinking that only the educated and extraordinary teachers within the powerful ruling class in the Temple could speak for God.

Second, the miracle of the healing of the crippled man by such “unschooled, ordinary men” went against the narrative that God only works through the religious Temple system and its priests. They, however, had no similar miracles to point to showing that God was doing such things through them. If the common people began to think that the priests and teachers of the law were impotent it threatened their systemic stranglehold on power.

Third, the fact that Peter and John were speaking about this pesky teacher, Jesus, and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead stirred dissension within the religious ruling class itself. Resurrection was a theological topic of hot debate. Those who believed in resurrection and those who didn’t were bitter rivals. You’ll note that it was the Sadducees (an anti-resurrection faction among the temple scholars) who had Peter and John arrested. The high priest is not going to want this miracle business to create an internal rift within the swamp.

Finally, the high priest and his cronies had to have been frustrated that this Galilean rabbi, Jesus, kept coming up. “Didn’t we execute him weeks ago? Can’t somebody figure out what they did with his body so we can be done with this?”

When you threaten a powerful system, that system will act to stamp out the threat to its power. The story of Peter and John healing the crippled man is like the pebble that starts an avalanche. This conflict is just getting started.

This morning I’m thinking about the many times in my life when I’ve watched systemic and institutional authority feel threatened and the ways that authority reacted to consolidate power and diminish or eliminate the threat. I’ve seen some doozies in families, schools, businesses, churches, and civic organizations.

In the quiet I’m mulling over my own circles of influence. In some I am the systemic authority. How do I respond to threats in a positive way, recognizing that my discomfort just might be reluctance to change in ways that would be positive for the system? In other cases, I’m an anonymous cog in a larger system with a penchant for initiating change. How can I do so in ways that are honoring to God and authority?

The Embrace of Interconnectedness

I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Isaiah 50:6-7 (NIV)

The ancient prophets wrote in poetic form. The verse of today’s chapter is a poem, though it is nothing like the pithy rhyme of a Hallmark card, which is about the only poetry consumed by most people I know. Nevertheless, knowledgable commentators have called Isaiah’s poetry “unsurpassed” among the ancient writers who penned the poetry in God’s Message.

This is, perhaps, one of the reasons that the prophets get scant attention and appreciation among contemporary believers. A verse quoted here, a Pinterest-worthy line there, and maybe a cross-reference for study. That’s about it. I get it. Poetry isn’t exactly a popular art form in today’s contemporary world of force-fed sound bytes. Add to it the complexities of translation and both historical and cultural context, and it’s a lot to wade through.

We’re now 50 chapters into Isaiah’s works (16 more to go). As I read this morning, I could feel the “voice” of his poetic verse change at verse four. Isaiah started off with “This is what the LORD says” but then in switches into the voice of the “servant” who says “The sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue.”

Wait a minute. If it is the Lord saying this to Isaiah, then who is the “Sovereign Lord” to which the verse refers and who is the person speaking to the “Sovereign Lord”?

There answer is that there are four “Servant Songs” penned by Isaiah (they are in chapters 42, 49, 50, and 54). They are unique in the exhaustive book of Isaiah’s prophetic works. They are the only place that Isaiah uses the exact Hebrew term for “Sovereign Lord.” The “Servant Songs” are the scripted words of Messiah.

In today’s chapter, the servant song prophetically prefigures the trial and suffering of Jesus at the hands of both the religious and political powers of His day. Read through the verse I’ve pasted at the top of this post. It’s as if Isaiah is storyboarding the scene of Jesus’ trial before the religious leaders and the Roman governor, and he’s writing this over 500 years before it happened.

This morning I am thankful for a Creator God who is artist, story teller, and poet. I’m appreciative of ancient prophetic poems that preview future events. I’m reminded once again of the eternal epic in which I find myself living. This Great Story is so much larger than the ice storms, business travel, and task list of my day, yet it systemically wraps the most minute and seemingly insignificant pieces of my day into the embrace of its interconnectedness.