LEADERSHIP IS AT THE SERVICE OF TRUTH AND LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 18:18-20; PS 31:5-6, 14-16; MATT 20:17-28 ]
Why do people seek positions of leadership? Jesus gives us the reason, “You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you.” Indeed, in the world, people aspire to leadership simply because of power, wealth, status and glory. They want to lord over others. Instead of serving others, their service is to make others serve their personal interests. They want to be recognized and be held in honour. Often, with power and authority, come money, sex, and luxurious living.
In the first reading, Jeremiah teaches us that leadership is for the service of truth. Indeed, the whole life of Jeremiah was to warn his people of the imminent disaster ahead of them because of their infidelity to the covenant. He did not mince his words but spoke the truth with fortitude, in and out of season. As a consequence, he was hated by the people because he was perceived as a harbinger of bad news. So much so, they plotted to kill him. They said, “Come on, let us concoct a plan against Jeremiah; the priest will not run short of instruction without him, nor the sage of advice, nor the prophet of the word. Come on, let us hit at him with his own tongue; let us listen carefully to every word he says.”
In the gospel, Jesus makes it clear that leadership is not only for the service of truth but of love. Perhaps, whilst Jeremiah was right in proclaiming the truth, he could have lacked love. Jesus, however, proclaimed the truth in love and demonstrated by His love. He came to serve humanity through the works of healing and reconciliation, which included the proclamation of the truth about ourselves.
Furthermore, He defined this service as one of humble and selfless service, not for one’s benefit but for the benefit of others. His vision of life is summed up in these words, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Indeed, a true leader is one who makes himself as a sacrificial offering for the greater good of humanity and often at his own personal expense and convenience. He is so to speak a ransom for others. This is the meaning of true leadership. Ut Vivant! That they may live, implies that one must die for the rest.
Is that our motive for leadership and service as well? The truth is that if we were to ask someone why he is a priest or religious, or a political, civil or corporate leader, or even in church ministry or NGO, he or she will always say it is because they want to serve. But is this true? Are we conscious of our real motives in service and especially when we aspire to leadership? The truth is that our hidden motives often are not detected. This was the case of the leaders in Israel, including the apostles and the mothers of James and John.
Because of their obsession with power and glory, they were completely insensitive to the Passion prophecy of Jesus. Here was Jesus going up to Jerusalem to meet His passion and death. But none of them even inquired about what He was telling them and how much they understood what He was saying. They just brushed off what He said and spoke about the glory of the kingdom instead. Perhaps this was true of the leaders of Israel when they heard the prophecies of Jeremiah. They were too absorbed in their power and wealth that they could not listen to what Jeremiah was saying. Even the other ten apostles were envious, even if they did not take the initiative to ask Jesus for the same favour. We read that “when the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers.” So they too were not exempted from secretly seeking power and glory. The consequence of leaders seeking power and glory for themselves is always jealousy, division and competition.
In the same vein, some of us are so desperate for people to acknowledge us that we unconsciously take up leadership to get recognition, power, glory, status and wealth. Very few would have the honesty to say that they want to be leaders for their own security and personal interests.
How can we know what our real motives are in service and leadership? Jesus asked His apostles, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” To drink this cup is more than just the capacity to suffer. Even dictators are willing to suffer for their ambition. Rather, the question is not whether you can suffer but can you suffer for truth and love? Are you able to suffer for others? One can suffer for oneself to realize an ambition. Even dictators suffer but for themselves. To drink the cup is to be made sin and to be made responsible for the sins of others. It means to take the pains, the consequences of the sins of others, the rejection, humiliation and ingratitude of humanity for the work of love that we do. Like Jesus and Jeremiah, would we die for the love of humanity, especially when they do not value us or are ungrateful to us? If our love is one of humble and selfless service, then our motive is clear. A true leader who is unifying and empowering is one who gives his life, enjoyment and power away for the greater good of humanity, seeking to be last so that others can be first.
Today, the Lord invites us to enter more deeply into ourselves and purify our motives for service and leadership. At the end of the day, Jesus reminds us that the focus is not what we can get from our service but what we can give; not what is in it for me but what is in it for them. Indeed, a leader should never calculate his costs or worry about his rewards. Jesus in no uncertain terms said, “Very well, you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.” A selfless and humble servant does not think of rewards but how he can serve better, empower others, and give hope to those in despair and most of all, consolation and love.
In order to be able to serve in this manner, we need to have faith in the Lord. This is where Jeremiah got his strength from. He prayed, “Listen to me Lord, hear what my adversaries are saying. Should evil be returned for good? For they are digging a pit for me. Remember how I stood in your presence to plead on their behalf, to turn your wrath away from them.” Together with the psalmist, we commend our lives to Him for He is our savior. We pray too, “Save me in your love, O Lord. Release me from the snares they have hidden for you are my refuge, Lord. Into your hands I commend my spirit. It is you who will redeem me, Lord. I have heard the slander of the crowd; fear is all around me, as they plot together against me, as they plan to take my life. But as for me, I trust in you, Lord; I say: ‘You are my God. My life is in your hands; deliver me from the hands of those who hate me.”
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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