Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, I share a few thoughts on the Lord’s guide on Christian leadership. I draw from Matthew 18:1-5.
One of the things we deal with as adults is the desire to be recognized. It is the ambition to be first.
In itself, it is a good thing. The student who works hard and is studious wants to be the top of their class. The entrepreneur who is diligent and bold wants to have a competitive advantage. For the pastor in the church, the need to be the best at pastoring is real and desirable.
When seeking promotion, for instance, or when bidding for a contract, one is literally competing. One is persuading the hirer that one’s position is better than other competitors. One may not be thinking about this reality, but it’s happening anyway.
Churches grow. Institutions thrive because they know how to compete. So, competing isn’t a bad thing, in church or in society.
The Lord knows where adults lead, they have to deal with their individual egos. They have to grapple with their idiosyncrasies, one of which is the line between excessive ambition, and prudence and humility. They have to balance their desire to be first with the Christ model of humility and simplicity of heart.
The disciples of Jesus are like us. They dealt with the same human weaknesses and temptations. As the Gospels of Mark and Luke indicate, it was their debate among themselves concerning who was the greatest that led Jesus to teach them his model of Church leadership, using the child as a symbol (Mk 9:33–37 and Lk 9:46–48).
The Gospel of Matthew 18:1-5 skips this background and focuses on the Lord’s message, a message which biblical scholars Newman and Stine (1992) in their A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, called “a handbook for Christian discipleship” (p. 557). Many biblical scholars see the teachings in Matthew 18 as the discourse on the Church. The Navarre Bible commentary (2005) notes this is so because “they are a series of instructions on the way in which his Church is to be administered” (pp. 125-126).
So, what is the style of leading that is consistent with the way of the Lord? The symbol of the child speaks to that style. Observing the child, one notices that though they compete, they have a pure understanding of winning. It isn’t an excessive arrogant ego. It isn’t necessarily about status—the concept of status is hardly conceptualized by the child. It is simply about winning for the sake of winning. It is a winning in which they do not think or will ill of others. The child wins for the pure joy of winning for the team.
For sure, we can’t become like children in the literal sense. It isn’t possible to unwind the clock. But the Lord asks us to embrace the grace of humility and simplicity of heart.
Key here is humility and simplicity of heart. It is the unassuming positionality in which what drives the leader is, as the founder of servant leadership model, Robert Greenleaf says, the desire to serve first; and by serving, lead.
I tell you, if our organizations would operate by this principle, many who collaborate with us would be inspired. Bottomline would be better for everyone.
I pray for the spirit of childlike leadership in our churches. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 19 Ordinary Time: Dt 31:1-8; Mt 18:1-5, 10, 12-14]
Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, I shed some light on the nature of Christian discipleship and its requirement for unconditional commitment to Christ.
As a believer, do you sometimes read a text in Scripture and pause to think deeply about its meaning? This happens to me quite often. I may have read a particular text over and over again. Yet, whenever I pray over the same text, I realize it uncovers more meaning.
Such is the nature of God’s words in Scripture. They are new every morning. They are news, revealing fresh insight to a willing heart. They speak to our needs and changing times. They are divine whispers for our well-being.
Consider, for instance, the encounter between Jesus and three individuals as recorded in the Gospel of Luke 9:57-62 (please read it). It’s centered on discipleship.
A number of things spoke to me in new light in the text. First was the fact that the Lord and his other disciples were “going along the road” (Lk 9:57, when these conversations began. Going along the road could be read to mean they were journeying. Christian life is journeying with Christ. The Church on Earth is described as a pilgrim Church. Faith life in Christ is a journey. This ties to a second, crucial aspect of the interactions as follows.
The first person says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go” (v. 57). He is making a firm promise to follow the Lord. He is not yet vested. The Lord replies that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58).
This response doesn’t mean the Lord and his disciples have no place to rest. Rather, it seems to me that the Lord was pointing to the fact that Christian discipleship is a nonstop, non-vacationing commitment. Though “I will follow you” is a firm promise, it isn’t yet acted upon. The Lord requires, “I’m following you right away.” Any good decision maker jumps unto a treasure once it is found. You don’t procrastinate.
About the Lord’s response regarding not having “nowhere to lay his head,” one has to remember that on earth, there is no rest from discipleship. The rest of the Christian, the true sabbath of which the book of creation (Genesis 2:2-3) hinted, is a pointer to the eternal sabbath. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XV), in his The Spirit of the Liturgy, rightly wrote about how the Old Testament concept of sabbath is a pointer to the eternal sabbath. He emphasized that the Christian concept of rest is heaven (the beatific vision).
There is no rest from discipleship. One cannot say, ‘I’m a believer today,’ and then take leave of being a disciple in order to attend to domestic, family, business, or political needs. In Christian discipleship, there is no leave, no transfer. It is a life-long commitment. The question in determining apt time for your commitment is measured by NOW. It’s now not then or the future.Nowis the key. Am I committed to Christ now?
The second individual was a different case scenario. The Lord was the one who invited him to come follow him. But the man replied: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (v. 59). The Lord retorted: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). Here again, we see one who delays his commitment due to legitimate family needs. I will return to this shortly.
The third person who says to the Lord, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (v. 61), supports what I have been saying. This scenario is similar to the case of the call of Elisha by the prophet Elijah (1 Kgs 19:19-21). But in the case of Elisha, he accepted the invitation right away (“Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah” (v. 20),before asking Elijah to go say goodbye to family. He was already a disciple and then started to put his house in order.
This lesson could be applied to the second case scenario where the need to bury a dad was an excuse. You don’t wait to put your house in order before you follow the Lord. Follow the Lord first, then you will be better equipped to put your house in order. One led by God’s grace has better spiritual resources to put the house in order. You want to be led by Christ because it is more fruitful to do so.
The Lord’s response is crucial. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).
It all ties together. The central message I draw from all these conversations is that the Lord is reminding me as his disciple to always remember that nothing is as important as following him. Nothing is a priority as doing his will. Even now, at this very moment, amidst my various legitimate commitments, nothing on my list of values or bucket list should displace the prime place of Christ.
I don’t take leave of obedience to him. All things may be good. Only one thing matters the most. It is following the Lord. It is absolute loyalty to God. This is the highest in the hierarchy of values. Other values, no matter how necessary, are subjected to this. A true believer lives life in that manner.
Lord, give me the grace to love you with all my heart, all my mind, all my strength and all the commitments of my will. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
[13thSunday Ordinary Time C: 1 Kgs 19:16B, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Rom 6:3-4, 8-11; Lk 9:51-62]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.