We had a particularly obscure reading from Jeremiah in Evening prayer today, a denunciation of the actions of king Jehoahaz (aka Shallum), one of the last kings of Judah:
13 “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labour.
14 He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.
What possible relevance does all this have to us as we near the end of the season of Lent? To me, it’s a reminder that abuse of power is nothing new. Jehoahaz enriched himself by failing to pay the workers on his palace. His concern was more for his own reputation and prestige than for the good of others. And maybe we can see links here with the headlines today. Because once more, there are politicians who are embroiled in controversies over their expenses, and others whose sexual proclivities have become national headlines.
There is always such a temptation when in position of power to use that power for ones own ends. And while it is easy to scapegoat politicians, we need to recognise that all of us face that same kind of temptation. I don’t need, for example, to point out how many times those in ministry have also abused their position.
In our reading Jeremiah goes on to contrast the actions of Jehoahaz with that of his father, Josiah, the last good king of Judah:
15 ‘Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.
16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.
Josiah used his position of authority to stand on the side of the poor and needy. We also know from the book of Kings how he instituted wholesale religious reform and dealt with the corrupt and idolatrous practices of the people. And to that extent, Josiah points forward to His descendent Jesus, who in the desert resisted the temptation to use power for His own ends, who sided with the poor and the needy, who challenged the religious practices of the day, and who ultimately made Himself nothing by dying on a cross.
As we enter Holy Week, I believe the life and death of Jesus challenges all of us to think about how we use the power we have been given.