PASSING ON THE MANTLE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Kgs 2:1,6-14; Mt 6:1-6,16-18 ]
One of the biggest mistakes of leaders is that they fail to prepare their successor to take over. Some are so absorbed and preoccupied in leading that they have no time to choose their successor and mentor him or her. In fact, this is one of the main crises in our Church today, the lack of priests, the dwindling number of priestly and religious vocations, and the aging priests. The flock of God will not be formed, ministered, and nurtured in their faith and spiritual life without good leaders. So we should not be surprised that the faith of many of our Catholics is weak, nominal, uninformed and superficial.
In fact, we are more of a maintenance Church than an evangelizing and missionary Church. Just trying to maintain and minister to the one-third of parishioners that come to our churches is already a challenge as our priests are old and few. We are not even thinking of building new churches and new communities, not only because of the exorbitant costs of building a church but we do not have sufficient priests to staff our churches. As it is, we are heavily dependent on foreign priests. We also lack lay leaders that are spiritually and theologically formed for leadership. This simply means that the local Church has not yet reached stability and maturity to be able to say we are sufficient and able to send our missionaries to other countries to help.
Today, the scripture readings invite us to learn from Elijah. He knew his time was near when the Lord would take him away. He did not know when but he knew it would come soon. So, too, for all leaders as well. The office of leadership is always transitional. It is never permanent. Our time will come when we too have to retire. Therefore, it is important that we prepare for a successor by grooming leaders after us. Elijah started early to look for a successor in the person of Elisha. He called him to be his disciple after the Lord instructed him at Mount Horeb. (1 Kg 19:19-21) Leaders whilst leading must therefore always be intentional in finding their successor to continue the work they have begun.
In looking for a successor, leaders must consider the level of commitment of the potential leader. Is he willing to give himself entirely to the mission and the cause of the organization? In the case of the Church, is the person totally committed to the person of our Lord and the spread of the gospel? Elisha for us is a good example of what this commitment entails. When Elijah called him, although coming from a wealthy family of farmers, he was ready to sacrifice his inheritance, wealth and business. He “took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.” (1 Kgs 19:21)
Secondly, the future leader must show humility by being a disciple. The irony is that many want to be leaders but they do not want to be disciples. They want to lead but they cannot follow. Pride and arrogance will make a dangerous leader because he will listen to no one except himself. The humility to be mentored is a necessary criterion for leadership. The disciples of our Lord spent three full years with Him before they were sent out. So, too, for Elisha. He stuck close to Elijah, learning the robes of a true prophet from him, ever ready to challenge the kings, like Ahab and Ahaziah. Both were evil kings. Elijah did not mince his words in reprimanding them. All this time, Elisha walked closely with Elijah. He refused to leave his side, repeating to him three times at Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you” when Elijah sent him away. (2 Kg 2:2, 4, 6)
Thirdly, in finding a successor, the most important discernment is not just the talents and charisms of a leader but that the person has the right motive. “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Make your request. What can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ Elisha answered, ‘Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.'” In asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha first was claiming to be the first-born “spiritual” son of Elijah, being his successor. This was not an indication of ambition in Elisha to be able to do better than what his master did. Rather, in the Old Testament, it was the custom for the eldest son to receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance. And he knew that without the charisms of his master, he would not be able to deal with the difficult days ahead of him as a prophet of Israel. He needed the same fortitude, wisdom, and strength to confront the evil leaders in his days.
The Lord underscored the importance of cultivating the right motive in what we do, regardless of whether it is prayer, almsgiving, or fasting. It is not what we do that counts at the end of the day but why we do, that is truly pleasing to God. There are religious leaders that apparently are serving God but in truth are serving themselves. They appear to be hardworking, but they are more concerned with their glory and power. They seem prayerful, but just for show. This was precisely what the Lord implied with respect to the Jewish leaders in His days. They were hypocritical, putting on a mask to hide their real intentions. If what we do is for our self-interest, such people should never be in leadership because a leader is called to serve God and His people, humbly and selflessly.
The motive of a leader must be clear. He must seek to glorify God above all things. Whatever he does, his sole purpose must be to glorify Him. This does not mean that we have to hide in our room when we pray or make sure we give without letting our left hand know what the right hand is doing and that everything is done in secret. This is just hyperbole, and a warning from our Lord of the dangers of deluding ourselves into thinking that we are prayerful, disciplined, and generous with arms when these are done to gain attention to oneself. Rather, in all things, the Lord teaches us, our goal must be clear that God is glorified, not us. He said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) One way to know for certain that we truly wish to honour God and not ourselves of course is to perform works of piety and mercy even when we are not seen or recognized.
In other words, we know our motive is truly to serve God when we are happy that we have done what is right and good. This is our reward, knowing that we have served Him and His people faithfully. We seek our reward not from people but from God Himself, knowing that He sees what we are doing and is pleased with us. The joy of a happy conscience is what brings us fulfillment. This is the greatest reward because it brings us peace, interior joy, and happiness. True leadership is seen in our love for God first, then in our love for our neighbours. Religious piety must lead to devotion to those whom we serve.
Finally, a potential successor must not only be mentored but also be truly chosen by the Lord. Man proposes but God disposes. When Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion of his spirit, Elijah said, “Your request is a difficult one. If you see me while I am being taken from you, it shall be as you ask; if not, it will not be so.” If Elisha were there at the right time and the right place, he would receive Elijah’s blessings of a double portion of his spirit. Therefore, the call to succession is really the choice of God but it also presumes that the person whom the Lord is calling is ready to take over the office when the time comes. Elisha was chosen but he first served under Elijah as his servant and disciple and stayed with him under his mentorship. When the time came for Elijah to be taken away, he was there. When the mantle fell on him, “He picked up the cloak of Elijah, and went back and stood on the banks of the Jordan. He took the cloak of Elijah and struck the water and it divided to right and left, and Elisha crossed over.” This confirms that Elisha had been well prepared to take over from Elijah for the Lord had anointed him with the same powers.
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.
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