Our Jewish guide was taking us from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  Recently there had been violent demonstrations in the area because Jews had appropriated for themselves a hilltop to construct still another Jewish settlement in Palestinian territory.  As we drove along our guide pointed out the disputed hilltop.  Then, our very pro-Israel guide remarked: “If we had only just talked to the Palestinians about it first, everything could have been worked out peacefully: arrogance of power.”


The phrase “arrogance of power” stuck with me.  For, unfortunately, it describes all too well the self-defeating misuse of power not only by Israel, but by the United States, the Church, and by many in authority.


Once a friend who was preparing a talk on Christian leadership gave me his outline and asked

for my comments.  He had carefully laid out all the qualities needed by a leader, except one.  I ask him: “Where is the washing of the feet?”


Jesus knew all too well our human propensity to abuse power, to believe that might makes right.  He tried to instruct his disciples not to misuse authority, not to imitate the way some non-believers impose their power with arrogance (Mk 10:35-45).  Once, to illustrate his teaching, Jesus placed a little child in their midst, challenging his disciples to be child-like, humble, to serve the weak ones in society (Mt 18:1-5).


But it was all to no avail.  Even at the Last Supper, having just received Jesus’ Body and Blood for the first time, his disciples once again began arguing about who was the greatest among them (Lk 22:24-27).


Was it out of desperation then that, on this their last night together, Jesus knelt down like a servant before his apostles, the new leaders of his Church, and one by one washed their feet?  And to burn into their memories forever the correct understanding of authority, Jesus carefully explained the significance of what He had just done:


So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?  You call me ‘teacher’ and master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do....If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it“ (Jn 13:12-15, 16).


Whether we are a president, priest, or parent, Jesus teaches that power is to be exercised only for the benefit of those governed.  The use of power that is self-serving, or for unjust purposes, or without due process and collaboration, such arrogance of power is what crucified Jesus two thousand years ago and continues to rob people of their lives and property today.



Ronald Stanley. O.P.