But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. [Matthew 20:25-27 (NLT)]
Recently, the news has been filled with stories about powerful men who have misused their influence to prey on others. Unfortunately, abuse of power is nothing new. Consider our Biblical hero King David. While strolling on his roof late one afternoon, he looked down on the city below and spotted a beautiful woman taking her ritual bath. Even though he knew she was married, David sent for her. With at least six wives already, he wasn’t lacking for female companionship. Nevertheless, he wanted the beautiful Bathsheba. The Bible tells us the two had sex, she got pregnant, and David killed her husband to conceal their adultery. The Bible, however, tells us nothing of Bathsheba. We know she didn’t ask David to invade her privacy and, obedient to her king, she went to his palace. How could she refuse and to whom could she complain? Whether David managed to seduce her with his charm or forced himself on her doesn’t matter. He was her king and she had no choice. He wrongly took advantage of his power when he sent his men to get her, had sex with her, and manipulated events so that her husband was killed in battle.
This is not a male-bashing devotion; it is a reminder to us all that power and authority of any kind is a privilege. We are told to be good stewards of our wealth and use it wisely. When we are blessed with positions of authority or power, we should use that wisely, as well. If we’re not millionaires, CEOs, politicians, producers, or celebrities, we might think we have little or no power, but we do. We have the power to make someone else’s day good or bad and we have the power to affect their future. We can badger or intimidate co-workers, baby sitters, interns, clerks, sales people, bus drivers, assistants, neighbors, care givers, maintenance people, spouses and even children. It’s not just sexual abuse; there are many other ways to abuse, demean, mistreat, manipulate, or exploit people. Bullies aren’t found just on the playground; I’ve seen them berate wait staff, receptionists, and students. Threats aren’t made just by bosses; I’ve seen them made by irate customers. Politicians aren’t the only ones with clout; many of us have the ability to put in a good (or bad) word that can change someone’s future. We can make or break someone’s reputation with a few keystrokes. Having the upper hand never gives us the right to hit with it and having the power to do something doesn’t necessarily mean we should.
Abuse of power has consequences; conceived in adultery, David and Bathsheba’s child died and we’ve recently seen numerous successful careers crash. We may not make the tabloids when we shortchange the sitter, take out our anger on the secretary, or threaten someone out of spite. Nevertheless, there will be consequences for us as well—if not in this world, then in the next. In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells us that we’ll be held accountable for the way we use our gifts. We tend to think of those gifts as money, time and skills. They also include knowledge, relationships, privilege, power and authority and we should use all of them with love and compassion. Moreover, when we use our influence or authority to mistreat those less powerful, let us remember that we are mistreating the most powerful one of all!