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(Part 53)


October 1, 2013
Today’s gospel: Matthew 18:1-4

Leadership in the world is all about being great--power, position, stature, recognition, influence, adulation. Oftentimes such attitude also finds itself in religious organizations and spiritual works. But the head of the Church is the diametric opposite of heads of governments, corporations or social institutions. Jesus is the One who came as least, emptying himself of glory, taking the form of a slave, humbling himself even to ignominious death on a cross. As it is with the Master, so it is with his servants.

Now serving Jesus and being in the Kingdom are of course among the greatest things that can happen to a person. Being a child of God is about greatness. Our end, life forevermore in heaven, is the greatest ever. Perhaps a servant leader can be forgiven the posture that he thinks he is so great, because in fact he is. But what makes all the difference is that, unlike the worldly greats, we and our Master do not stand on such greatness, but rather, shed the greatness for the nothingness, the glory for the ignominy, the adulation for the disdain, being first for being last.

Such posture was impressed upon the apostles by Jesus who “called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Lk 18:2-3). That was a shock to them. Children had no stature in their society. They even once prevented the little children from coming to Jesus. Now they, leaders personally chosen by Jesus, already doing the very work of Jesus, were being told to become like these nobodies. It would have been perplexing, and profoundly humbling.

But that was precisely the antidote to their pride, as they “approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” (Lk 18:1). James and John even jostled for positions of glory at Jesus’ right and left, and the other ten were indignant, because the brothers beat them to it! So Jesus said enigmatically, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Lk 18:4).

What is it about a child that equates with humility?

  • Children are pure of heart. They are not yet prone to the wickedness and evil that adults manifest. They do not know how to insult, malign, be intolerant, plot against others, seek revenge, and the like. They are not out for power, position or privilege. They do not seek to build turf. They have no personal agenda or ulterior motives.
  • Children are totally dependent on their parents. On their own they are unable to feed, clothe and protect themselves.
  • Children have nothing to brag about. They have no accomplishments, no money, no developed talents, no family influence, no extended circle of admirers. Their opinion, advice or counsel is not sought.
  • Children are obedient. They are just told what to do and are expected to follow and obey. They follow without even knowing the basic reasons why.
  • Children trust in their parents. They know their next meal is forthcoming. They know their security is in their hands. They know they have someone to comfort them whenever they are in pain. They know their parents will never fail them.

Now that is exactly the posture we need to have in relation to our heavenly Father. Too often servant leaders begin to depend on themselves, to trust in their own abilities, to become proud about their achievements, to look to and insist on their own plans and preferences, and even to malign other leaders in order to have their own way.

Now Jesus says that those who do not become like little children will not even enter the kingdom of heaven! Indeed, how can one who does not relate to God in the right way enter and be with Him eternally? How can one who has been given the privilege of leadership but who does not follow in the footsteps of the Master find his way to heaven where Jesus has gone ahead?

How unfortunate would be the situation of a servant leader, who, after serving the Master all his life (or so he thinks), finds himself barred from the gates of heaven.

Servant leadership is the greatest work we can be privileged to be given by Jesus. There are trappings of human and worldly greatness, so do not get sidetracked and even derailed by those. Instead it is all about being humbled by being the last, the least, the lowly. It is about being the little child, who is marginalized at the sidelines, but who, at the very end, will be called by Jesus and placed in the central place of prominence, in the midst of all.

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