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(Part 127)


February 21, 2017

Today’s readings:
Sirach 2:1-11
Psalm 37:3-4,18-19,27-28,39-40
Mark 9:30-37

The servant leader takes the lowest place and is the servant of all. This is not easy for leaders to grasp, nor for them to live out. But if we are to serve as our Master did, if we are to be his effective instruments for his Kingdom, then we must act accordingly. The instruction of Jesus is clear. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mk 9:35b). The servant leader who wishes to be first is he who wishes to serve, and if effective, becomes a leader. He leads, from the front and not from behind. He is the first to receive the counter-blows of the enemy, being at the front lines. He is first, but he is the last in taking the lowest place as the servant of all.

Such posture is important in keeping the servant leader well grounded. It keeps him from destructive pride. Given our fallen human nature, we can fall into this great sin. No one is immune, not even the apostles, who “had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” (Mk 9:34b). This can cause a dilemma for our Master. Jesus certainly wants his leaders to be effective and successful. But when they are, but fall into pride, they will become ineffective and ultimately failures. What is the solution? It is the posture of humility. It is knowing one’s place, which is the lowest. We are unprofitable servants.

So Jesus pointed to a child (Mk 9:36). The proper posture is that of a child, who can do nothing much on its own, who is dependent on others, who does not look to power or position.

When God’s people accept their leaders in this way, as a humble servant/child, then they are also seeing the true essence of servant leadership, in the model of Christ. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me” (Mk 9:37a). When they receive their leaders as such, then they receive Jesus who sends them. And then the full connection is made from the bottom to the top, as “whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mk 9:37b). The upward scale of service is complete: leaders --> people --> Christ --> God.

But let us not forget the downward scale: God --> Christ --> people --> leaders. This is important for those who serve. They are covered by those over them. They are cared for. They are protected. They are blessed. This is very important, because there will be many challenges. “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” (Sir 2:1). True servant leaders will tell you this is true.

How do servant leaders survive?

First, “Trust in God, and he will help you” (Sir 2:6a). Know that the God whom we serve is just and merciful, and will always be there for His people. Just keep on serving. “Trust in the Lord and do good” (Ps 37:3a).

Second, “Make your ways straight and hope in him.” (Sir 2:6b). Keep to the straight and narrow path, even if it is inconvenient or seems foolish. This is the only way to keep the intimate connection with God, in whom is our hope. “The Lord knows the days of the blameless” (Ps 37:18a).

Third, “Cling to him, do not leave him” (Sir 2:3a). Enter even more deeply in your relationship with God, especially in times of difficulty. Do not be angry with Him, and never give up on your service to Him. “For the Lord loves justice and does not abandon the faithful.” (Ps 37:28a).

Fourth, “Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient.” (Sir 2:4). Look to embrace your crosses, and rejoice in the good they will bring to your life. “For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation.” (Sir 2:5).

Servant leadership is challenging. We face the enemy within us, especially pride and discouragement. And we face the enemy without, those who seek to harm God’s people. We can only rejoice in God’s unswerving care. “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord, their refuge in a time of distress.” (Ps 37:39).

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