GRACEFUL EXIT


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Dt 34:1-12; Ps 66:1-3, 5, 16-17; Mt 18:15-20 ]

A time will come when leaders need to make an exit because they are too old and weak to lead or because they have made some wrong judgements.  In the case of Moses, he had been a great leader of Israel.  He led them out of Egypt and journeyed with the rebellious and unruly people, forming them slowly in faith, in loyalty to the Covenant and building up their military prowess to deal with their enemies.  Indeed, the scripture sings high praises of Moses.  “Since then, never has there been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man who knew the Lord face to face.  What signs and wonders the Lord caused him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and his whole land! How mighty the hand and great the fear that Moses wielded in the sight of all Israel!”

Yet in spite of his greatness as a leader, he had his limitations.  God did not allow Moses to lead the people into the Promised Land.  The joy of entering the Promised Land would not be his lot.  Instead, the Lord showed him the future of the land of Israel.  “The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your descendants.  I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross into it.'” He would instead die in the land of Moab and be buried there as decreed.  Moses had to be contented that his task and mission was simply to prepare the people to go into the Promised Land.

Most of all, his task was to prepare his successor, Joshua.  He would be the one to complete the work that Moses had begun in one sense, but it was also done in continuity with the plan of God beginning with Abraham.  Moses was ready and generous enough to let go when he knew his days were numbered.  He was not resentful of God for not being given the honour of leading the people into the Promised Land.  He was contented with the role that God had for him in the establishment of the People of God.  He was free to retire gracefully and allow Joshua to take over the reins of leadership.  He did not keep anything from Joshua.  On the contrary, he gave him all his support for we read, “Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him.  It was he that the sons of Israel obeyed, carrying out the order that the Lord had given to Moses.”

Graceful retirement is what is required of us as well.  How many of us have the magnanimity of Moses who was ready to let go of his power and authority?  Many of us unfortunately do not know when to retire and how to retire.   We do not make the exit in time and often overstay the tenure of our office.   We think that we know best and we are indispensable to the organization, failing to realize that we are often outdated and have become irrelevant to the current generation of people.  Yet we cling on to our power, our office and position for fear that we might disappear from public life and recognition.  This explains why some hold positions in the Church or organizations for years and years, unwilling to allow the younger ones to take over from them.   Instead of becoming a help, we often become a hindrance to the dynamism and growth of the Church and the organizations.  We stifle the initiative and passion of the younger generation who want to make a difference in our organizations.  By the time we are forced out of office because of death or ill-health, the young people would have left the Church to join some other organizations elsewhere.

But it is not enough to step down from our offices.  We must do so graciously by preparing and giving the younger generation the opportunity to learn, make mistakes and find their own ways of making things work.  How many of us have the graciousness of Moses to pass on our wisdom, our experience and our knowledge to the next generation of leaders?  Some of us are afraid to pass on our skills to the younger ones for fear that we would be made redundant once they know what to do.  Back in our mind, we want the future generation to be always dependent on us so that we feel we are indispensable.  This is a problem of insecurity and selfishness.  Again, there is the other temptation of the older generation to impose their set and proven ways which worked for their generation then on the next generation.  Although we have made our own mistakes in the process of leading our people through trial and error, we would not allow the new leaders to learn through their mistakes and experiments.   We are overprotective of the organization and the systems that had been put in place, as if they are carved in stone.

This calls for the courage as well to offer fraternal correction.  This is what the gospel is asking of us.  “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves.  If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge.  But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.”  Although the gospel is speaking about real offences and scandalous sins in the community committed by individuals and affecting the rest of the community, we could also apply this principle to the formation of our leaders as well.

Leaders must be patient and forgiving in helping the next echelon of leaders to mature.  Fraternal correction is given not just for the sake of those who are hurt by the mistakes of others but it is given primarily for the sake of the person himself.  Very often, we correct a person’s mistake so that they will not make our life difficult anymore.  We correct the errant person more for our peace and happiness rather than the sinner or the offender.  This should not be the attitude of offering fraternal correction.  Our intention must be primarily for the good and growth of the person, not so much to penalize, destroy or humiliate the person. That is why fraternal correction must be done privately with the person in the first instance before we bring in others to mediate and to help the person to see where he or she needs to grow.   Our goal is to win over our brother or sister so that he or she will become a better leader than us!  Otherwise, his folly or lack of awareness will not only destroy the community but himself.  To keep silent in the face of mistakes committed by those under us, especially the younger generation who would be the next echelon of leaders, is even worse than the mistakes that they made in ignorance or in pride.

Today, we are called to be like Moses, courageous and generous in passing on the baton to Joshua and entrusted to him the future of Israel.  We too must be ready to pass on our baton when we find new leaders to replace us.  This is why, the moment we are placed in leadership position, we must be on the lookout for our possible successors.  We should take pains to groom them for leadership positions so that when the time is opportune, we can stand aside and let them take over the reins of leadership.  A leader, regardless how good he is in leading the people, is a bad leader if he fails to prepare new leaders to take over from him.  He is selfish and is more concerned with his security than with the service to the people.  What we must ensure is the continuity and growth of the organization, especially when we are no longer around.  Part of good leadership is to form new leaders after us.

So we must pray for good leaders who are generous to hand on their leadership and to ensure a smooth, orderly, planned and peaceful transition so that our people will not be left with a vacuum in leadership.   This is what the Lord asks of us in helping to build the community.  “I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.  I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”  We need to have selfless leaders who care for those after them than for their own security.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


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