Reflection for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
Today’s readings offer thought-provoking lessons into true and authentic leadership. And what message would be more important in the light of our forthcoming elections in the Philippines?
Our Lord himself asserts, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers [over the Gentiles] lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt … whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Hence, our first lesson: Leaders are essentially servants expected to minister to their subjects with their lives as the price to pay for liberation and development.
On the other hand, our Lord warns, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Hence, our second lesson: Leaders are also expected when they do respond to this call of service through leadership, not to anticipate nor to actively strive for personal credit or rewards, their only prize being the lasting peace that is ultimately attained through their initiative and inspiration of the efforts of all.
How now must we undertake an appropriate process of identifying and developing leaders?
First, it is fundamentally necessary for leaders to be naturally empathic and compassionate, having a complete appreciation of the dignity of the “different other.” An awareness and eventual concern for the lack of opportunities for this “other,” leads to a disturbing realization of one’s excesses, which leads further to an uncompromising temperance.
Second, leaders now conscious of the human condition, and highly motivated of the need to bring “others” to goals and ends that will correct inadequacies and provide benefits for all, will articulate a vision and develop a mission to accomplish it. All authentic leaders are almost always yearning for a future of sustainable harmony and peace.
Third, leaders then commit themselves to bearing the shortcomings that tend to injustice, reforming people and structures to conditions of justice that will yield a stable prosperity. Leaders must be capable and tenacious in seeking to help everyone transcend their own petty selfishness, so that they all become mutually responsible for one another, carrying the burden and task of simple sharing.
Fourth, leaders must learn never to presume they can always lord it over “others,” consistently mindful that they are themselves weak, and needing of correction as “others” are. Leaders must remember they are essentially servants expected to guide and empower their subjects: “The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised. Next comes the one who is feared. The worst one is the leader that is despised.” Leaders are so detached such that when all has been accomplished, they can exclaim, “Amazing, we did it all by ourselves!” (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 17)
Fifth, leaders must practice being prayerful, always having recourse to the Spirit, mastering compassion, moderation and humility from the Master who is merciful, unpretentious and down-to-earth. Leaders therefore hold in high regard all those who are trying their best to follow the path of he who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Hence, untrue leaders are those who cannot or will not be driven towards the bitter obligation of placing the common good above all other intentions including their own, though they may in all sincerity, would want to serve “others.” We start to lose potentially good leaders when they begin thinking they are “deserving” of the power bestowed upon and entrusted to them only as a privilege, a power that can just as easily and must be taken away from them, when necessary.
We will all eventually fail when we in turn, start believing their unjust claims to the same power. Almost all aspiring leaders “do not know what they are asking,” and must be forewarned not to enter into this vocation because of the glory that comes with it, but only because of the duty as citizens of “heaven on earth” to ensure its coming and continuity.
The Christ seems to imply that leaders must always be prepared to die, even if such sacrifices will go unrecognized or be barely remembered. With these admonitions, it is then difficult to think who in their right minds would now wish to move forward upon the selfless path of leadership. Are we not so alarmed by the hidden motives of those who are presently running for power? And if we are bothered by a perceived impurity of intentions, is it because we are secretly jealous and desiring of power ourselves?
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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