Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38)
The Evangelist Luke has the disciples rejoicing in and praising God “for all the mighty works they had seen” (emphasis added). Presumably, he is referring to the miracles which Christ had done as part of His ministry. While Christ’s signs were miraculous, still they are not mighty if we think in terms of political or military power. Rome was still in firm control and Israel was downtrodden and subservient. The ‘mighty’ deeds of God in Christ are acts of love – forgiving sins, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing humans from bondage to Satan, restoring humanity’s relationship with God the Father and Creator of us all.
The Prophet Habakkuk (whom the Orthodox Church commemorates on December 2) spoke of God’s “mighty love” in the Septuagint version of his prophecy (vs 3:4). This ‘mighty love’ is also mentioned in some of the hymns of Holy Week, as Orthodox scripture scholar Eugen Pentiuc notes:
Applying Hab 3:4C and the present hymn to the foot-washing episode (John 13:1-20), one may notice the ingenious and subtle way the hymnographer links the ‘mighty love’ expressing God’s ‘strength’ with Jesus’s love and humbleness shown in the washing of his disciples’ feet. In the hymnographer’s view, Jesus though Son of God exuding wisdom and power, humbles himself, bending his knees in front of his disciples, showing that love is strong and gets even stronger when it serves others.
Here is a variant of the above hymn:
You established for us a mighty love, O Lord; for you gave your only begotten Son to death for our sake. Therefore giving thanks we cry to you, ‘Glory to your power, O Lord!’ (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, pp 134)
The ‘mighty works’ of God – His power – are not political or military, but rather are acts of love toward His human creatures as well as toward the entire cosmos. Christ’s mighty acts include His making Himself a servant and washing the feet of His disciples. St Cyril of Alexandria says of the same Habakkuk passage:
And the fact that he was destined to rescue us he demonstrates in advance by saying, He placed a powerful love of his strength [Hab 3:4]; In other words, we have been saved, ‘not by works of righteousness that we ourselves performed,’ not by achievements of the Law, since ‘the law made nothing perfect,’ but from the clemency of the God and Father, who for our sake placed the powerful –that is, strong and mighty – love of the Son. The God and Father, remember, ‘so loved the world as to give his only Son so that everyone believing in him might not perish but have eternal life‘ [John 316]. (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, pp 135)
While so many, even Christians, seem more interested in political and military power than in reconciliation with God, it is God’s love for the world and for all of us which is revealed in the Gospel. That is the peaceful gift that Christianity has to offer to the world. God’s love is God’s mighty power.