“The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warnings and said, ‘Not so! There must be a king over us. We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and lead us in warfare and fight our battles.'”1 Samuel 8: 19-20
At least half of our citizens are not the least disturbed by the authoritarianism and tendency toward dictatorship that has possessed the highest office in our country. As I listen and watch those who support this regime, I see people who are looking for a strong man to save them. I am assuming they grew up in a home where the Father ruled over the household with a firm hand and they have become accustomed to this structure of patriarchy. I am also assuming that punishment for disrespecting the authority of the Father was physical for children, and in some cases for the wife, too. The pattern for authoritarianism is created and reinforced in homes. We learn our place at home.
What is this fascination with strong bosses, fathers, kings, rulers? Where are the roots of patriarchy to be found? I’d like to know so we could pull patriarchy out by those roots! Not just patriarchy, but this whole hierarchy thing, too. It has brought nothing but misery to most of us human beings, while enriching the few at the top.
Hebrew scriptures are a superb source for witnessing human interactions with one another and with God. They reveal the patience God has with us, letting humanity make huge mistakes, yet watching over us. I have discovered the allure of patriarchy within the many books of scripture from the book of Genesis on, where it begins.
In the book of Samuel we read the story of Israel’s first king. It turns out that God was against the idea, as was God’s prophet, Samuel. Whoever wrote this book was inspired to put these words in the mouth of God, “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their leader, as they have treated me constantly from the day I brought them up from Egypt… ” (1 Samuel 8: 7-8) I find it interesting that God would complain to Samuel even while allowing the people to choose their own path, away from the ways of God.
God allows humanity its mistakes and also allows the consequences of those mistakes. Darn it! Sometimes I wish we had a more interfering God who would swoop in and take charge, and fix things. Regrettably, that is not God’s way. God is a God of persuasion and not of coercion, because God is love. Even God’s anger is out of love.
God allowed the consequences of humanity’s original choices to play out over the centuries. From the moment the first males subjugated, subdued, and repressed womankind, as described in Genesis, to today, humanity has lived out the scourge of hierarchy, of ranking some humans over others and using violence to maintain this pecking order. Humanity has tried to pretend that this ordering of some humans over others is “God’s will.” It is not. We know it is not God’s will because of Christ Jesus.
It is as if God finally decided that humanity had reached a level of maturity where it could be possible for us to take in God’s true plan for us. Evidently we had to evolve our compassion index as a signal we were ready to hear God’s Word. And finally the Wisdom of God became flesh and dwelt among us. To speak plainly, humanity was provided with God’s “show and tell.”
Christ Jesus, who came to earth to show us what God is like and what God wants of us, spoke of and demonstrated a radical equality of persons throughout his ministry. As Paul would write later to the Galatians, “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3: 28). During his life Jesus would say to his disciples over and over again that no one was to Lord it over the others, but were to welcome even small children into their circle. Women were made welcome and treated as equals, traveling with him, sitting at his feet as he taught, and they were there with him to the end, and beyond, first to witness his resurrection, and leading house churches in the early days of Christianity.
Just before Jesus came to earth the people were praying expectantly for a Messiah. The Messiah they were seeking was someone like King David, who would make Israel great again. That is not the Messiah that God sent. God sent a baby who became a kind, generous, and humble man. This Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor, and a very different kind of kingdom, a Beloved Community of justice, love, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance of others, and a radical equality of persons. Jesus proclaimed a new way of life that brings humanity back to its original state of blessing, before humanity went off track.
But the people wanted a warrior king who would lead them out of Roman captivity and recreate the Kingdom of David, their most famous king. They wanted again a king to lead them in warfare and make of them a powerful nation. They were like the people wearing MAGA hats today. They saw greatness as power over others, which is that thing we call hierarchy. This desire to rank over others is what has taken humanity away from God and the ways of God. It is the sin of white supremacy (racism), of sexism, of classism, of nationalism.
When they tried to make Jesus a king because of the miracles and signs he performed, he fled from them and hid. (John 6: 15) He wanted nothing to do with the kind of ruler they were seeking. Eventually the people turned on him, and as a mob would shout, “crucify him, crucify him!” There are still those in the world who prefer the path that humanity has chosen for itself, in spite of the pain and suffering it brings, over the sacred path that God shows us through Christ Jesus, the path of life.
We Christians need to live a different way from the ways of the world, and with us there must be no one who “Lord’s it over others.” We come together celebrating a radical equality of persons. Yes, there are different roles within the Beloved Community, but we stand side by side, each with equal dignity as the children of God. The patterns of Patriarchy are hard to break, but if we are intentional about it, we can do it. The Ecumenical Catholic Communion is an association of Catholic Churches that strives to live out this radical equality of persons to the best of our ability, and with God’s help, we will succeed.
Unless we can root out this original mistake that humanity made by choosing to rank some humans over others, we will remain trapped in a system that is not what God wants for us. So, let us begin by choosing to see each other through God’s eyes, as beloved children of God, created in the image and likeness of God, and grant to each person the dignity they deserve.
My beloved ones, see yourself as one who deserves dignity and respect, and do not let anyone Lord it over you, and do not Lord it over anyone else.