It’s easy to see how Jesus got in trouble

Mar 15th, 2013 | By | Category: International

Words written by John Dalberg-Acton in 1887 are familiar to most students of history. ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, he wrote in a letter to Mandell Creighton, Professor of Ecclesiastical at Cambridge University. The next sentence of Dalberg-Acton’s letter is usually not quoted, perhaps it is thought an offensive comment, a dangerous statement, even: ‘ Great men are almost always bad men.’

The powerful may not have been initially bad, but the trappings of office and the alluring dimensions of influence seems quickly to turn heads. Read Martin Meredith’s ‘The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence’ and the conclusion is unmistakeable: principle is quickly corroded in the acidic atmosphere of power, in nation after nation even those who had acceded to office with high motives succumbed to the material temptations and resorted to oppression and violence to hold on to what they had. Were it not for constitutional checks, many politicians in developed countries would undoubtedly pursue similar paths.

Power is a culture, those who rise to it make a Faustian pact with their associates that they will uphold that culture; the comfort and wealth of the elite depend upon an implicit acceptance of the rules. Gain influence or power and not keep the rules and the backlash is swift; if the elite cannot remove you by fair means, they will readily resort to foul. If the ballot box cannot block reform, then smears, dirty tricks and even coups will be employed.

Whether one sees Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God or just as  First Century itinerant Palestinian preacher, it is not hard to see how he rattled the elite of his time. Had he been more accommodating, softer in his condemnation of their corruption, they would have been more tolerant, they may even have allowed him a place in among their  society, smiling at this maverick figure. That was the temptation he had faced, to possess power and influence in return for compromising his principles.

Elites do not like people who cause instability, who threaten the cosy comfort of the existing arrangements. Leaders who embrace ways simpler and humbler than their associates raise questions among the general populace about why subordinates need to live in opulence if the leader can live so simply.

Pope Francis comes from a religious background that embraces a ‘preferential option for the poor; dressing plainly, riding on a bus and paying his hotel bill himself may only be the first signs of a leader who is going to be fundamentally different from his predecessors. However, in his desire to imitate the humility of Jesus of Nazareth, he needs to be mindful of the hostility that Jesus’ humility aroused among the great and the powerful of the time.

The way of Jesus was a way of direct confrontation with power: Pope Francis needs to watch his back if he is going to follow that way.

Wooden Cross




Leave a comment »

  1. Some interesting points raised in this article, Ian. Talking to my own rector this afternoon as we were both shopping!! not together l hasten to add, he said the Church of Ireland needs to look at itself and in what direction it is going, before we all get lost in what is going to happen in our sister church. He has a point, whilst Pope Francis might be a good man himself as a human being, becoming the head of the billions of Roman Catholics around the world is perhaps not what he would have aspire to, however, we’ll watch and pray, as we need to earnestly need to do in our own church if we are to follow the example of Jesus Christ .

  2. Your rector’s remark is slightly bizarre. 84% of the population of this state is Roman Catholic. What the Pope says affects the context in which our tiny community exists.

  3. Yes, that was pointed out to me last week by the Dean’s Vicar in Cork!!!! I know we are a minority church in the context of so many RC’s not only here but around the world, but he seemed to think there was a need for some form of renewal within the C of I, what, he didn’t say. I suppose Stanley has the right idea, we need to get people out to church, especially in the rural communities, but we have to show them what the church has to offer. The Gospel message of Jesus Christ does not seem enough, l don’t have the answers. I am only a mere mortal, who struggles with her own faith at times. My rector is very theologically sound, with a tinge of an evangelical thread!! but he only has 4 churches, 2 services at each, alternate sundays, so, he is not over stretched in terms of work, which is totally different to someone like yourself, what all this has to do with anything i’m not sure!!! sorry about making comments on the rugby, l do apologise. However the Pope has a lot to do to put his own church back on the straight and narrow, never mind ours. I’m just rambling now, we’ll talk again. Blessings. Patty.

Leave Comment