SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GEN 3:9-24; PS 90:2-6, 12-13; MARK 8:1-10 ]

Man is ambitious.  We want to be more than who we are.  This was the sin of Adam and Eve.  They wanted to be like God.  “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”  (Gen 3:5f)  Indeed, in us, there is this desire to achieve at all costs.  We desire to be the best.  This is true whether in the corporate world, in civil service or even in charitable organizations and church ministries as well.  Every leader seeks to be the best and aspires to bring the organization he leads to greater heights, greater productivity and efficiency.

But very often, leaders in the process of trying to achieve the goals which are commendable for the company or organization they lead, forget to put the interests and welfare of the workers first.   They are more concerned with their goals rather than the welfare of their workers.  Some bosses are slave drivers, making their workers work day and night without giving them sufficient rest and pay them poorly; make all kinds of demands, expecting them to be at their beck and call, work late without notice and lack compassion when they are sick or dealing with family issues.

Such bosses are short-sighted.  They forget that the success of the company is dependent on the happiness and passion and well-being of their workers.  If the workers are not well taken care of, when their needs are not looked after, we cannot expect them to perform to the best of their ability because they lack the motivation, the strength, the sobriety and the passion to do their work well. They could be struggling with their work-related problems, office colleagues, office politics, harsh and demanding superiors, and personal issues at home. That is why, to achieve our goals in life, we need the support of our team players.  A leader by himself cannot attain the goals he sets out for his organization unless the members are with him.  He needs the loyalty, the support and passion of his staff.

In the gospel, Jesus shows us the way.  His mission was to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  He wanted to bring the people into the Kingdom by believing in Him.  We read that “a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat.” What was more, they had been with Jesus for three days already and had nothing to eat.  What was the immediate response of Jesus? “I feel sorry for all these people. If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way; some have come a great distance.”  Jesus was very sensitive to their needs.  They came to Jesus because they were spiritually hungry.  They wanted to listen and to learn from Jesus.  Jesus spent the time teaching them.

But Jesus felt for them because He knew what physical hunger was like, having been deprived of food for forty days in the desert.  He took upon Himself to make sure that the people had food so that their hunger was satisfied and most of all, strong enough to make their way back home because many came from a distance just to hear Jesus.  He knew their desperation and yearning to come to the fullness of truth.  That they took the effort to travel so far just to see Jesus showed their sincerity and hunger for the truth. Hence, Jesus, being a compassionate shepherd, was concerned for the people who came to Him.  He could have said, “I have done my part offering them free teaching on wisdom and truth.”  That was precisely the response of the disciples.  “Where could anyone get bread to feed these people in a deserted place like this?”  In other words, they wanted to wash their hands of this responsibility, giving the excuse that it was impossible to find food for such a large crowd.

However, for Jesus, the people’s problem was His problem.  As a leader and shepherd, He could not simply disown responsibility for the people’s basic needs.  That would contradict all that He had taught them.  Since they did not want to take responsibility, Jesus took over the situation Himself.  He said to them, “‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said. Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them among the crowd. They had a few small fish as well, and over these he said a blessing and ordered them to be distributed also.”

Indeed, as leaders, we cannot be so focused on our ambition, our goals and plans whilst forgetting the personal welfare of our workers, collaborators, staff and members.  One eye must be kept focused on our goals and mission, whilst the other eye must attend to the immediate needs of those who are working with us.  A good commander must take care of his soldiers so that they can have the strength to fight, and the motivation as well.  The moment a commander loses the loyalty and confidence of his soldiers, he would surely lose the battle, regardless of how great his strategies might be.  We must not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.  Take care of the goose and the golden eggs will come and for many years to come as well.

Not only must we take care of the needs of our collaborators, but as leaders we must also attend to the wounded members of our team.  The role of a leader is that of a shepherd, not just one who leads the team to win trophies but to care for all members, strong and weak as well.  The Lord spoke through prophet Ezekiel, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”  (Ez 34:15f)  It would be counter-productive for shepherds who only feed themselves, especially at the expense of the sheep.

A good leader cares for the spiritual, moral and personal needs of his workers.  He seeks to help them and heal them.  This was the case of God in the first reading.  When Adam and Eve sinned in disobedience, God went in search for them.  Whilst He condemned sin, He did not condemn Adam and Eve.  Instead, He looked for them, knowing that their shame, symbolized by their wickedness, was keeping them away from Him.  “The Lord God called to the man. ‘Where are you?'”  In other words, “what is your condition, your state of being now?”  Again, when the man and woman did not acknowledge their sins, but instead assigned blame to each other and to the serpent, the Lord sought to redress the rupture that already happened.  In spite of the judgement He had to make to protect the greater good of humanity by driving Adam and Eve out of the garden, He gave them the grace to win their battle against Satan, by learning obedience and humility through suffering and hard work.  Yet, He never left them alone but “God made clothes out of skins for the man and his wife, and they put them on.”  In other words, God continued to take care of their needs and looked after them.   Even when sin was committed, the grace of God and His compassion for sinful man was never taken away.

Indeed, when we look after the welfare of our workers, we become even more productive and we can achieve even more. We read in the gospel that scarcity of food ended with plenty. “They ate as much as they wanted, and they collected seven basketfuls of the scraps left over. Now there had been about four thousand people.”  When we care for people, we will open their hearts to give as well.  Jesus who shared the little He had to show His sincere compassion and love for His hungry people, not only filled their stomachs, enlightened their minds but open their hearts as well.  In turn, they began to share whatever little they had with each other and the Lord multiplied their food by many times.  So too, looking after our workers sincerely will result in greater commitment and better performance.

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

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.