Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were God? I don’t do that often, at least not seriously, but stories and movies about the idea have interested me. I’m not a Jim Carrey fan, but I had to check out Bruce Almighty.
For those of you who didn’t see it, the movie is the story about a rather self centered and ambitious small market news correspondent who’s stuck doing light hearted stories. He complains about this almost constantly, and after a huge melt down on camera, wonders if the universe is run right. Well God, in the form of Morgan Freeman, offers Bruce the chance to do things his way: he makes Bruce God for the coming week. It takes a little bit for Bruce to get used to walking on water, but once he has it figured out he starts rearranging his environment and life to suit him. He hears voices, and manages to get all the prayers to come up as e-mails, and at first he tries giving everybody what they want, but that blows up in his face completely: after all, if everybody who prayed that they won the lottery did, they would get around $17 dollars each once they split the winnings. Then he struggles with getting balance in his life, and discovers that with all his power, he can’t keep his girlfriend from drifting away from him. When he finally realizes the limitations of power, he can turn his focus away from himself and toward others, after getting hit with an 18 wheeler, of course.
The drive for power is something we can all relate to, as James and John find out. The brothers are upwardly mobile, but they aren’t really good listeners. They have seen what happened in last week’s Gospel (remember that?) where they find out how easy it is for rich people to get into heaven, then the listen to Jesus tell them that he’s going to be put to death and rise three days later. Most people would be freaked by that, but these two guys come forward as if everything went straight past them and make an unusual request in a very childish way. “Promise me that you’ll do what we ask you.” I don’t know about you, but whenever somebody says something like that to me, I assume that I won’t want to do what they ask. Jesus says: “What do you want?” They say: “When you come to power, put us on your right and left.” In the ancient world, sitting at the right and the left of a monarch was a position of extremely high authority; they want to be Jesus’ chief henchmen and the people that folks go through to get to Jesus. There’s some money involved as well. Jesus asks them if they can do what he does, and they say sure thing. Then Jesus turns things upside down on them again.
Jesus says they will share his cup, but that he can’t make the seating arrangements in the kingdom. What makes a difference in Jesus kingdom isn’t who has the most pull, but who does the most for others. Servant leadership: the one who holds the common good and attends to it is the greatest, not the strongest or the richest, or the smartest or the most promising. Later on, Jesus will demonstrate that the night before he dies, as he hosts the Last Supper and washes his disciples’ feet.
Bruce Almighty can help illustrate for us the temptations of power: how short sighted it can be, how it can destroy people’s lives, how it can rob us of our identity and separate us for those we care for the most. Power for its own sake is a dead end. There is a bumper sticker that says: “The one who dies with the most toys, wins.” So what?
In Christ, we find our greatest fulfillment in how we can focus on others. Our power doesn’t rest on what we can get, but on what we can give. Our way to live is the drink the cup that Jesus drank, walk the walk the Jesus walked before we can even think of talking the talk. Pope Francis is giving us a great example of how to walk the walk. It is our sharing in Christ that we find how to live, how to give. It is how we care for others, how we can serve the needs of all that we can find our wholeness.