Power and Authority

Source: natcom..org

Jesus is silent before Pontius Pilate. Pilate responds, “Do You refuse to speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You and authority to crucify You?”  Jesus answered, “You would have not authority over me, unless it were given you from above.”

Source: lds.org

Curious response.  I can just imagine the train of thoughts going through Pilate’s head. This “guy” isn’t responding to me? Doesn’t he know I have the power to crucify him, scourge him, and do all sorts of mean things to him?! How can he just remain silent before me when I ask him a question – how dare he???!?!

An interesting distinction came to me the other day which, for me, makes sense of this peculiar scene between Pilate and Jesus.  There is a difference between authority and power.

Source: UBDavaid.org

When I think of authority I think of the way our society is organized.  I have bosses, they have certain gifts and talents, and they, in the position they find themselves in have the ability to tell me what to do and where to go.  This authority is for all our good, and serves a very good practical purpose. The boss (hopefully) helps us to achieve a common end.

Then there is power.  These people with power can walk into a room and scare the “hebejeebies” out of me.  There is something in their mannerism, tonality, facial expression, etc that seems to strike fear in my heart.  I become a bit nervous around these people, and begin to hesitate and doubt myself. At my worst, I may run from such people, and not challenge them, even if I know it would be a good thing.

Source: theleadershipdifference.com

It seems to me that Pilate has authority over Jesus. He can tell Jesus where to go, what to do, and in what way Jesus is to be killed. But Pilate does not have power over Jesus. Jesus is not scared or frightened of Pilate. Jesus’ emotional state is not affected in the least. Jesus is calm and serene in spite of whatever authority might have him do.

This is an interesting way of being in the world.  It is to obey those with authority over us, and to have an open ear towards them.  But like Jesus, we may be asked to be calm and serene before all – understanding that no one, except the good Lord has power over us.

Raj Vijayakumar, SJ is a Jesuit scholastic studying philosophy in Toronto.

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