Isaiah 53: 10 – 11, Mark 10: 35 – 45
This Gospel has ambition, jealousy and the paradox of Christian leadership. James and John approach Jesus and seemed very determined to be given the two highest places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. One might even wonder what led them to ask for such a thing. Maybe it was their mother who prompted them to make this request, for in John’s Gospel she is the one who approaches Jesus with the same request for her sons. Whatever the reason, this request receives two very different responses. The apostles respond with indignation and jealousy. Maybe a few of them had the same desire and didn’t like James and John beating them at making the request. Jesus’ response is two-fold; first he talks about the cup that he will drink and the baptism in which he is to be baptized. We know that he is alluding to his passion, suffering and death, but I doubt that the apostles understood it in that way. Then Jesus goes on to give them an instruction on true leadership. It is totally different than theirs and our view of leadership as positions that bring honor and privilege.
Ambition and jealousy seem to creep into many of our committees and organizations, even in our parishes. Often times there are those members who think that they should be the president or chairman who let this ambition lead them into a sort of “campaign” mode while working on the committee. They might be repeatedly criticize the leadership, even embarrassing them at meetings, and telling others what they would do if they were in charge. It is an attitude and behavior that causes tension, division and factions and can tear apart the committee or organization, and if it is a parish, the body of Christ itself. At the same time we can have people in leadership who think that because of their position they know everything. They don’t take seriously the input given by others, are very impressed with their position of authority, and expect others to honor them because of their position. The results are the same as with the members with ambition and jealousy. Jesus makes it clear that this is not the way he wants apostles, or we as members of the church, to behave.
In our own day this style of leadership that Jesus calls us to have is known as “servant leaders.” Jesus instructs us to see leadership as a call to serve, and not a call to be served. Those who desire to be in leadership should have servant’s hearts. These are hearts that are without ambition for power, and free of jealousy toward those who are in authority. These are hearts that are filled with humility and a desire to be attentive to the needs of those who the leader is called to serve. The leader is called to be willing to sacrifice and even suffer for the good of those being served. Jesus ultimately gave us the example of the extent of sacrifice and service on the cross. The Heavenly King was willing to humble himself to become like us in all things but sin, and to suffer a criminal’s brutal death out of service to us. We are blessed and redeemed by the servant leadership of our Lord. Imagine how blessed and sanctified our church, our parishes and our schools would be if we began to embrace this style of leadership ourselves. If we empty ourselves of ambition and jealously and take on the mantel of humility and service we can become the servant leaders Christ calls us to be.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.