Thursday Reflections

Speaking truth to power

This morning we have an example of what real discipleship means ( Acts 5 27-33). Discipleship is a word we have become very familiar with but which is truly a powerful concept which is not always taken seriously.

To be a disciple is to follow, to live with, to learn from, to be obedient to,  and over time to become like another. So we better choose our master carefully?

It is an ancient and meaningful concept which has not translated easily into modern life where we are so focused on our individuality. In a way science and rationality has become our master since the time of what we call the enlightenment. But even then we all need a teacher do we not to pass on knowledge.

The ancient tradition of discipleship was to follow a person. A person who would pass on the deep truths of life not simply in words but in action and lifestyle. You cannot transfer the concept of discipleship through a book. You cannot learn what you learn through discipleship on your own .. it must be observed and questioned and understood.

This was the basis of the disciple’s relationship with Jesus. Come follow me he said. And they left everything and followed him … to watch him, to ask him questions, to see how he lived, how he ate, who he talked to, what he thought about taxes and the status of women and illness. This is what we need to do if we are to learn what it means to be followers of the Way. To be disciples.

And how do these passages show us that it works .. that discipleship changes things. In this passage we have a powerful example of how Jesus taught the disciples to deal with authority and power. And it is summed up in the phrase ‘speaking truth to power’.

This phrase ‘speaking truth to power’ was coined by the Quakers as a means of confronting powers and authority with non violent resistance. A powerful nonviolent message to injustice and unbridled totalitarian forces. Sir Thomas More did it at the cost of his life when he spoke truth to power against King Henry VIII; Martin Luther King Jr. did it at the cost of his freedom when he ended up in the Birmingham jail and eventually at the cost of his life. Ghandi did it in his opposition to British rule in India.

But the ultimate example of speaking truth to power was Christ’s passion week and challenge to the powers of the Temple and the Roman Empire through willing suffering on behalf of truth. He spoke truth to power.

What we know is that it took a while for the disciples to learn this way of confronting oppression and injustice. Even in that last week of earthly discipleship Peter drew his sword in violence. It takes great courage to speak truth in the name of advancing power. The courage to stand upon one’s own convictions. And of course the disciples all fled the Roman soldiers on that last night together and lacked courage. Speaking truth to power is not easy.

Speaking truth to power means comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable. It means the courage to stand up for your beliefs, when your instincts tell you have to … even though sometimes there is a price to pay.

Jesus knew this .. he sought to disturb the powers of oppression and injustice and was willing to pay the price of this. And eventually the disciples got the message. It required them listening to and observing and walking with and questioning Jesus. But through discipleship they got there .. so that confronted by the oppressive powers of the day .. the powers that crucified their friend and leader .. they  were able to speak courageous truth.

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