The past few days I’ve been thinking of the sad story of a young girl who recently died by suicide as a result of peer abuse. Her story is told in her own words in a youtube video that she posted just over a month ago. While it raises a lot of questions about the roles of authority figures in her life (where were her parents, teachers, and extended family?), it is hard to ignore the sad reality that Amanda Todd was the victim of sexual predators, social ostracism, and mental illness.
She was rendered completely powerless. Powerless to change her situation. Powerless to change her psychological state. Powerless to change her past. In her desperation for love and affection, she became vulnerable. And instead of finding an advocate, she became an easy target for those needing to wield their power.
I understand that feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability. In my early teens I had my first taste of rejection, betrayal, and social ostracism, or what we like to call “bullying.” It wasn’t until I experienced it that I realized that I had participated in bullying others (I promptly apologized to a girl that I had bullied and experienced for the first time what it meant to be forgiven). I’m starting to learn now the dynamics of power in all relationships; the effects of having power taken from me; and the weight of my power as a healthy, educated, resourceful woman serving as a pastor.
From these experiences of powerlessness, my gut reaction to those words of Jesus about becoming a slave swings between rebellion and resignation. Rebellion because I don’t want power to be taken from me, especially when I have already experienced marginalization in multifaceted ways. But neither do I desire greatness. I’ll let the extroverts and those out to prove something to somebody to obtain it. Leave me alone to do my work. I already serve others. I’ve already given up dreams, career, and rootedness to follow Christ. Must I stoop even lower? Must I be crushed?
And then resignation hits. Fine. My feelings of “rebellion” must be a sign of pride and selfishness. What else do you want to take from me, God? What lesson am I supposed to learn in this unjust game of life in which I am destined to lose anyways? You’re sovereign and all-powerful, so who am I to complain? I’m just a servant. I’ll just be a tool for your use. This is the way to humility, right?
Neither of these reactions are healthy or the way of shalom. They’re a sign of a hurting heart, bleeding from wounds caused by others and weakened by a poor understanding of who God is and His work in our lives. It’s also a result of a poor understanding of biblical context. Jesus was speaking to his disciples who’ve been arguing over position and prominence, and who’ve been completely oblivious to how Jesus served the most vulnerable in society. He called the privileged to account and invited them to give away everything. He brought in the excluded and established their inclusion into the Kingdom. In other words he restored humans to their humanity, as neither gods nor objects.
I am both powerful and weak. Both saint and sinner. These particular words about servanthood speak to the parts of me with privilege and influence. These words remind me that I have a duty to serve my sisters and brothers. To speak on behalf of others who are silenced. To listen when others need to be heard. To use what I have been given to give to others.
To the parts of me that struggle for dignity and acceptance, I hear instead the words that Jesus spoke soon after. To the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, he said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” You are free now. You have the privilege of sight. You have power that you didn’t think you had before.
What did Bartimaeus do with this new-found privilege? He chose to follow Jesus along on the road to Jerusalem. With his new eyes he likely witnessed the unjust suffering of Christ on the cross. He saw a Savior without power. Scorned, mocked, and hated, for no reason other than being who he is.
But maybe he saw a resurrected Savior full of glory and grace. Maybe he saw the reality of God’s Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom to which he belonged. Maybe he saw a power that was greater than the darkness, a power that gives life rather than takes it.
We may be living in dark times, but we have seen the light. Go, Church, your faith has healed you. Go where Christ leads. Don’t shut your eyes to the injustices. Don’t believe you are without power. But don’t think that power is meant for you alone.
Woe to those who take power for themselves and dehumanize others.
And mercy, oh Lord have mercy, to those who cannot see their God-given worth.
This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.