So … we are into the presidential primary election season. Already the news is happily swamped with politicians posturing themselves. We, for our part, keep watching and asking ourselves, “Who is the one that seems to have that presidential timber and swagger?” In light of the political climate we find ourselves in as well as this Sunday’s gospel reading, a question to be entertained is, “If Jesus were running for my party’s nomination, would I vote for him?”
Truth be told, I do not think Jesus would receive many votes in either political party but I also do not think Jesus would really care! Throughout the gospel our Lord does the one thing that a politician would never do because the politician knows it to be political suicide: Jesus never confuses the illusion of control with true leadership and true personhood. Therefore, he never needs to pretend control. Our Lord is free of this temptation.
In today’s gospel (Mk. 8:27-35) we are told that Jesus is walking with his disciples and he asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” This question, itself, sets Jesus apart from the career politician. The politician says, “Let me tell you who I am. These are my skills… This is what I have achieved…” Jesus doesn’t do that, rather he asks, “Who do people say I am … who do you say I am?” Jesus knows full well who he is and what his purpose is but he does not impose himself. Rather, he waits. He allows the Father to work in the hearts of his followers and he allows his disciples to come to him. He allows them to come to the realization of who he is. Jesus does not force his disciples’ recognition. He needs neither to control nor manipulate the situation.
Then and only then, he begins to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, be killed and then rise. Imagine this as a political platform! We cannot and this is why Peter’s reaction is so perfect because it is our honest, human, knee-jerk reaction! “No, Lord, this cannot be! You do not need to suffer! You do not need to be rejected! You can control the situation! You are the Christ!”
But leadership and control are not necessarily synonymous. Our Lord wants to show us a different way of both authentic leadership and personhood. “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do … whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
Our Lord is showing us a way of living which can forego the illusion of control. Isn’t it interesting to note how so many times after our Lord performs a miracle he is quick to say to the person healed, “Your faith has made you well.”? He does not need to grasp that credit. In the fourth chapter of John’s gospel, our Lord says, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work.” (Jn. 4:34) Not my program, not my agenda, not my control but rather my Father’s will. Every moment of our Lord’s life was focused upon and directed in trust toward the Father’s will.
This letting go of the illusion of control is not a passive resignation akin to despair. It is far from that. Rather, it is the most active of stances in our world. It is learning to seek and make the choice for God’s will in all things and all situations. There is nothing passive about that. This is the one choice which can truly transform lives and the world itself!
One of my favorite social media sites is entitled ”Bored Panda Animals”. It is a site that hosts often stunning photography. Just this last week the site highlighted a photographer who captures images of foxes in the wild. These pictures are beautiful and they depict these animals completely relaxed, eyes closed, enjoying the breeze, Zen-like in their posture. The site also interviewed the photographer who shared how she is able to capture the photos of these wild animals so relaxed. “There’s a contradiction going on when it comes to capturing Zen foxes: the harder you try, the more you’ll move away from your goal. If you are too eager, an animal will sense that eagerness and will remain alert. I learned to do as foxes do, just being there and see what might happen.”
Let go of the illusion of control. It is not real. Learn to trust in the will of the Father.
Allow God to be God and trust.
“…whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”