earthly kings & our addiction to power

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in the Christian calendar on the road toward Easter. I know it’s a hard season for a lot of faith shifting folks, and I’ve written so much already over the years that there’s no need to re-create the wheel; you can always use my blog search bar for old Holy Week and When Easter is Hard posts. Meanwhile, even though I’m not blogging much these days because I have been working hard on writing Practicing and juggling Refuge and life, I wanted to share this today because Palm Sunday is a placeholder for something I’m most passionate about–conversations about power.

Humans are addicted to it, attracted by it. We love to be on the winning team and have someone tell us what to do. So many of us are trained in weird parts of our brain to follow strong leaders who can help us make sense of all the things we can’t seem to make sense of ourselves.

We love powerful sermons, inspiring podcasts, books by popular people, cool Facebook and Instagram posts–anything and everything that gives us a sense of direction or something to follow.

The story of Palm Sunday is a shining example of human’s attraction to power.

Jesus enters Jerusalem to a roar of “Hosannas!” and the thrill of impending victory. People were excited, inspired, drawn, hopeful. They were ready for him to kick ass and take names, topple the empire and restore justice.

They were ready for a king–someone who would make all that was wrong right.

But as the week progresses, things radically shifted and so did the mood of the crowd. He had stirred the pot too strongly.  He’d upset too many apple carts.  He challenged the status quo far too deeply. “Hosanna” turned to “Crucify him!”

Jesus did all kinds of un-king-like things (my favorite part about him).

He touched lepers.
He dined with sinners.
He called out religiosity on its hypocrisy.
He told everybody they needed to be last, not first.
He said that love transcended all.
That the way up toward God was to go down to the places of real life, real pain.
That God desired mercy, not sacrifice.

Then, next thing they knew he was washing feet, talking about dying, telling us we needed each other in all of this.

Things went bad to worse after the foot washing. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to die. Then, instead of getting off the cross and saving the day that way, he actually died–right there in front of them. He appeared powerless, defeated.

A few days later, the tides turned yet again and he wasn’t dead but alive.

None of this was the kind of king-like behavior they were hoping for.

As I reflect on the beginning of Holy Week and our journey toward Easter, many of the same basic human dynamics are at play today. The demand for strong, powerful, charismatic, certain leaders is alive and well across faith, political divides, ages and experiences.

Like a moth to a flame, we like heroes, kings, queens, someone to follow.

And let’s be honest–we’re never drawn in the same way to the weak and vulnerable, the weird, the unpolished. They aren’t usually the ones who have a microphone.

My theory is that we are still desperately looking for a king who makes more sense than Jesus because he’s not the kind of king we really want. 

Instead we desperately look to pastors, leaders, podcasters, writers, speakers, someone to tell us what to do and think, what’s okay and not okay, what the scripture says and doesn’t say, who’s better and worse, what sounds good today and what we might kick to the curb tomorrow.

We are drawn to power and charisma so we can feel more protected, comfortable, contained.  

But the gospel was never supposed to be protected, comfortable, or contained. 

What makes it the gospel is its wildness, rawness, unexpectedness, and challenge to us. That God shows up in the least likely places instead of the most. That a downward descent is the direction we should be headed even though everything inside us screams “I don’t want to go down… I want to go up!”

As I reflect on this current season in politics and church–no matter what side we ascribe to–I am struck by how desperate we are for someone to follow, believe in, lead the way.

I understand the feeling, and I’m all for doing everything we can to discern healthy leaders.

But the big idea I always draw back on is that we need to shake our addiction to kings.

It’s okay to listen to wisdom teachers and glean what we can from them, to agree with values and practices of leaders and support them, to gather what inspiration we can in a world that feels pretty dark right now.

I’m just encouraging us to be careful.

To look at what we’re getting out of hopping on bandwagons.

To notice that sometimes we give up our own agency to others to belong or be part of the new latest and greatest thing.

To look at how we are grasping for someone to follow, and it’s rarely someone from the fringe.

For the most part we spend far too much time (and money!) listening to or following powerful, charismatic leaders instead of washing other people’s feet, sacrificing our comfort for folks on the margins, and following the wild ways of Jesus–the un-king-like-king–who always leads us to somewhere that doesn’t always feel good, doesn’t make sense, doesn’t make us go “yeah, that’s awesome!”

Jesus was subversive, wild, and radically unpredictable.

Us? Not so much. We’re much better at domesticated and on our terms.

This week my hope for all of us, no matter what we believe or don’t believe this Holy Week is that we examine our need for a certain kind of “king,” “queen,” and a power we can follow because it makes sense.

That we fast from following this kind of power and see what we’re really made of independently from the big, the shiny, the certain, the charismatic.

That we do the kind of soul work Jesus describes in the Beatitudes and embodied.

That we shed the shimmery and glamorous and strip down to the bare, the simple, the unplugged.

There aren’t many kings like that, but I’m pretty sure that’s the One we are supposed to be following.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

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