SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Wis 6:1-11
; Ps 82:3-4
; Lk 17:11-19
All of us have been given some form of power and authority. The power could come in the form of authority and leadership over our subordinates. In this sense, parents have power over their children; teachers over students; bosses over workers; priests over the laity; etc. But power is not only exercised in this form. It can be power in terms of knowledge and skills. Knowledge is power. We need people who are professionals and experts in their own fields to help us manage our lives and our activities.
The truth is that the more power and authority we have, the more accountability is demanded of us. There is no power without accountability. Indeed, when accountability is lacking, power leads to abuses, corruption and scandals. It is a fact that those with power often use it for themselves and their interests rather than for the greater good of the community. Power is often used to boost one’s ego so that the person feels great about himself, that he has command over the lives of others. Some can be so dictatorial and fearful of competitors that they would use harsh means to put down their perceived enemies. But worst of all is when power is used to enrich oneself through the granting of favours in return for bribes, manipulation of others for material benefits, etc.
Such bad leaders will be held to account for how they exercise their power. Thus the Lord warns us, “Ruthless judgement is reserved for the high and mighty; the lowly will be compassionately pardoned, the mighty will be mightily punished. For the Lord of All does not cower before a personage, he does not stand in awe of greatness, since he himself has made small and great and provides for all alike; but strict scrutiny awaits those in power.” Leaders are always under the scrutiny of the public and ultimately by God, in the way they exercise their authority and the motives for what they do.
How, then, should those in power conduct themselves? Firstly, we must recognize that all authority comes from God. “Listen, kings, and understand; rulers of remotest lands, take warning; hear this, you who have thousands under your rule, who boasts of your hordes of subjects. For power is a gift to you from the Lord, sovereignty is from the Most High; he himself will probe your acts and scrutinise your intentions.” It is a gift from God given to us. We are not the ultimate power in this world. In fact, we are under the sovereignty of God because power on this earth is at His mercy and graciousness. Power can be taken away from us at any time because of health, scandals, rebellion or enemies. The Lord says through the psalmist, “I have said to you: ‘You are gods and all of you, sons of the Most High.’ And yet, you shall die like men, you shall fall like any of the princes.’”
Secondly, because power is a gift from God, we are called to be stewards of God’s grace. Authority is given to us for service. We are called to manage the household of God, build up the family of God and extend the reign of our Heavenly King. We do not have a right to use the power bestowed on us as we like. We are deputies of God even if we are kings. In the bible, Kings were anointed for service because they were considered the Anointed One of God. A king was called to represent Yahweh to the people. Hence, he was called to govern the country according to the laws stipulated by God. He was just a steward of God’s authority vested in him. “If, as administrators of his kingdom, you have not governed justly nor observed the law, nor behaved as God would have you behave, he will fall on you swiftly and terribly.”
Thirdly, power is to be exercised in such a way that it is done on behalf of the weak and the marginalized. Power should not be exercised just for the rich, the influential and the powerful. Rather, the responsorial psalm urges us, “Do justice for the weak and the orphan, defend the afflicted and the needy. Rescue the weak and the poor; set them free from the hand of the wicked.” Those with power must use them to empower those who are powerless. Hence, whilst power is to be used for the good of all, it should be exercised to protect the poor and the weak from unscrupulous people taking advantage of them.
How can this be done? How can those with power and authority stay always alert and walk the right path and not be tempted by money, fame and pride? The first thing is that leaders must take direction from the Lord. “Yes, despots, my words are for you, that you may learn what wisdom is and not transgress; for they who observe holy things holily will be adjudged holy, and, accepting instruction from them, will find their defence in them, Look forward, therefore, to my words; yearn for them, and they will instruct you.” Leaders must hang on to the Words of wisdom of the Lord by constantly meditating on Him, praying the scriptures and listening to His authorized and exemplary servants. Leaders cannot act on their own wisdom and logic without constantly taking reference from the Lord, consulting Him in prayer and discerning His will for those under His charge. Consequently, leaders who do not pray but just work and work, are dangerous because they will be motivated by their own ambition and plans rather than do everything according to God’s plan for His people.
Secondly, leaders must have a deep faith in God. In the gospel, we are told that the lepers were asked to go and see the priests to verify that they were healed. And they went in faith, believing that they would be healed even though they were not yet healed. They trusted in the promise of Jesus. In fact, only “as they were going away they were cleansed.” Leaders too must act on the promise of God. We need to have faith in His guidance and in His promise to help us govern our people according to His will. This was the same assurance God gave to Moses in his mission to deliver the Hebrews, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Ex 14:14) To Joshua, the Lord said, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Jos 1:9)
Thirdly, leaders must remain grateful for the power, the knowledge and the authority the Lord has given to them. We read that only the Samaritan came back to thank the Lord when he was healed. “Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan.” Without gratitude, we will become arrogant and abuse our power as if we have earned that authority by our efforts. This explains why Jesus remarked, “Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.” “And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’”
So let us thank the Lord for the gift of power that comes in the form of knowledge, skills and authority. Because these are gifts from the Lord, let us use them well for others, especially for the poor and those who need our help to be strong and independent. Let us resolve never to use power for our own good and interests. This would be to fall into the Temptation of the Devil. He sought to tempt Jesus to use His divine power for Himself, by changing the stone into bread when He was hungry and to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple to prove His divinity. But Jesus used scriptures to resist the devil’s temptations. (cf Mt 4:1-11) We too must resist such temptations but remember what Jesus said. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:26-28)