Today our Scriptures have us reflect on what leadership is, and what leadership is not. Especially, we are invited to see what makes for failed leadership. If there has ever been a time in history when there has been a crisis of failed leadership all across society, now is that time.
Leadership in academia has overseen the dumbing down of America while costs have soared and scores have plummeted.
The political leaders have failed to break through the fog of bitter rivalry so as to work together for the common good. Leaders simply can’t be trusted to solve the enormous problems facing our society.
Leaders in business cannot trust this crisis in governance with the result being that businesses cannot move forward to create new jobs.
The roadblock of political bickering will not allow creative leaders to emerge to solve our immigration fiasco. Leadership in opinion-making has failed miserably in helping create a society of virtue and self-control and has sold us all out to extreme individualism which cannot hold a society together.
And we have all lived through the lurid scandal in church leadership which has broken our hearts and tested our faith. How well is it said in the Prophet Malachi: “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter ... ; you have made void the covenant ... , says the LORD of hosts. I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways.”
What an indictment! And what a long list of failures in leadership. And it goes on further in the Gospel, in Jesus’ list of failures of the leaders of his time.
How about yourself as a leader? How are you doing? Are you a leader in business, in academia, in some service industry, among your peers and relatives and friends? All of us are persons of power, especially the power of influence. Our opinion on anything really does matter. Have you ever considered how many stands we take in life, not because we believe in them, but because we don’t want to be rejected by people we value?
So, let’s all admit that each of us is a leader in one way or another. And let us heed what Jesus is telling us as leaders. He’s telling us three things: to practice what we preach; to lighten the burdens of others; and to become free by abandoning the need for recognition and acclaim.
First: practice what we preach. If we really believe in the love of God and in His gift of mercy, then let’s allow that love and mercy to saturate all of our interactions, opinions, political choices and relationships. If we leave love and mercy as a private matter, then we are no better than the hypocrites in the Gospel.
Second: Lighten the burdens of others. If we remain a selfish, self-indulgent, consumerist culture that does not care about the world we will be leaving to future generations, then we are laying heavy burdens upon them and not lifting a finger to lift them. We need to learn anew the maxim, live simply so that others may simply live.
Lastly, abandon the need for recognition. This need for the applause of others, the admiration of others, the esteem of others, is the most fatal attack on our inner freedom. When we are overly concerned about what others may think of us, we are not inwardly free. Do you remember: two Sundays ago, in the Gospel, a two-faced man came to Jesus trying to trip him up, asking about the tax to Caesar, and began by flattering him: "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status.” As much as this was a trap of flattery, this man was also describing Jesus as who He truly is. And he is describing what we should aim for: to be truthful, to embrace the way of God in accordance with the truth, and to no longer be concerned with anyone’s opinion.
These are the keys to good leadership: practice what we preach; lighten the burdens of others; and be inwardly free from needing recognition.
So, my brothers and sisters, let ask Jesus to help us restore good leadership in our church and in our homes and in our society.