Saturday, October 15, 2016

The power and the glory

The 'Thinking Anew' column in today's The Irish Times.

Michael Commane
 The front page headline on last week's German weekly newspaper 'Die Zeit' ran: 'The power of the insulted'. A very clever headline that tells the story of our time.

Populist politicians in the western world are tapping into the feelings of those who feel dispossessed, those who feel they have lost out.

There is a mood about that the world is tired of the status quo, that the elite have been in control for far too long and simply do not understand the plight of the 'squeezed middle' and those who 'keep things going'.

Part of the irony of the current political play is that those who claim to be on the side of the common people are quite clearly deeply ensconced in the heart of the so-called elite classes.

It's baffling how mega-wealthy privileged people can give the impression that somehow they are 'one of us'. And it seems to be working. Right across the western world, there are millions of people who are now placing their trust and indeed hope in right-wing ideologues. History, and indeed, common sense,  tell us that such people and their policies always leave the poorest people in society less well off.

There are always battles as to who should be the ruling class. There are peaceful ways to do it but such change can also happen through bloody revolution.

But it does seem that right now there is a worldwide cry for change. And that cry seems to want to swing the pendulum in a right-wing direction. It's also happening within the churches. And it seems to be inevitable that the tectonic plates are moving.

There is no doubt that our leaders need to be more answerable to us and more careful in how they use the world's resources. However, the loudest voices for change  often offer us fear, begrudgery and isolation. That can never be good.

But that's the way of the world. Power is some sort of aphrodisiac and there are those who crave to be in the top jobs. They will do anything to get to the top. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Tomorrow's Gospel throws some sort of universal wisdom on our relationship with those who hold worldly power.

A poor widow pleads with a corrupt and powerful judge to help her in her miserable plight. She is simply looking for justice to be done. She wants him to intervene on her behalf and help right the wrong that has been done to her. She is persistent and keeps asking him to do what is right.

Eventually, he comes on board. His reasoning is: "Even though I neither fear God nor care about people, this widow bothers me so much, I will see that she gets justice; then she will stop coming and wearing me out." (Luke 18: 4 - 5)

Commentators use this Gospel to point out how prayer, our pleading to God ultimately works. If a corrupt judge will eventually listen to a nagging woman, how much more will a loving God, listen to our pleading. And that makes great sense.

But there is also a story in that Gospel that is telling us that all power on earth is limited, temporal and ecclesiastical. And that no matter who is in power or what ideology is prevalent, that we can never rest on our laurels and allow those in power and control to do as they wish.

Plato's gnat, who constantly asked questions of those in power, is always needed to keep us and the ruling classes on their toes.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus is always at the heels of those in power, no matter what hue they are.

Yes, we have to live by the rules, but putting all our trust in any sort of temporal power is never the full story. There is something greater to be found by looking upwards and contemplating the word of God.

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