Yesterday’s Gospel could not have been more timely with all the political rhetoric bombarding my Facebook, t.v., and every other form of social media. It is quite clear that U.S. citizens are concerned and are seeking a leader that will do the greatest good for themselves, their families and their country (myself included).
From Mark 10:42-45, Jesus summoned the Twelve and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus is addressing the question of leadership among the Christian community, what it looks like, and has as its foundational priority. Christian leaders are called to serve not themselves first, but others. Christian leaders must not demand to be served, but to serve. There is always a danger in authority. It is very much a double-edged sword for many. It offers so much potential to to the good FOR others but it also gives one a sense power over, or of “better” than those who have less authority.
Jesus references the gentiles, and says that their leadership has it all wrong. Their leaders, “lord it over them and make their authority felt.” I’m sure that examples abound–especially for anyone who has ever served in the military! So many men worked their way through the ranks in the Marines and thought that their rank entitled them to privilege and honor. They wanted us to know who was in charge and were unwilling to budge for even the smallest things. Micro management and top-down approaches were the rule of the day. The answer was “No, because I said so!” Jesus makes it clear that leadership exists but for one purpose–to come to the aid of those under ones care.
In light of Jesus’ teachings, the catholic church teaches the principal of subsidiarity. Namely, that larger institutions or bodies exist to serve the smaller–not the other way around. “Subsidiarity is an organizing principle stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.” Of course, this concept can and should be applied on a variety of levels from parenting in the family. to schools, business management, government, and the military.
This principal is basic parenting 101 style. My sons weren’t two years old before they were telling me to back off! They wanted to do it on their own! Now they are four and six and are telling me they can do it themselves, unless they can’t, and then I step in to help them as much or as little as needed. My job as a parent is not to tell them what to do, it’s to teach them what my expectation is and then to help them decide the best way to do it. My own children are very creative and find all kinds of ways to get the job done. My students are the same way. My co workers are the same way. I give honor and show my children their own value and dignity when I follow the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity. They see that they have a great mind, ingenuity, reflectiveness, and brilliance. I violate that dignity when I tell them that it’s my way or the highway. My students are violated when I don’t allow for their creativity. My co-workers are burdened unnecessarily and lose faith in their own dignity and ability when they are micro-managed. Another way of understanding this violation is paternalism, which forever subordinates and stunts the moral and emotional growth of others.
And all of this goes back to our political issues today! Governments and its citizens are established and vested with degrees of authority as well. Jesus suggests to us that the leadership model we must follow is an inverted triangle. The few at the top with the most power must become the slave of all. I serve my students, the department chair serves me, the vice principal serves him, the principal serves the vice principal, and the president serves the principal. In our family and nation, my wife and I serve our children, the local schools and public officials serve our family, the county serves the town or city, the state serves the towns and cities, and the federal government serves the states. No decision should be made by a greater entity that could be made just as effectively by a more local entity. The larger exists to say, “Let me know when and how I can help.”
So, as you head to the polls be mindful of your own dignity and demand that your voice is heard. Humble, servant leaders is what we are called to be and what our national leaders in no less way are called to be. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” U.S. citizens don’t exist only to serve our nation, our nation exists to serve us and to make our life better by offering a helping hand when needed–but not to run our life for us. We must be mindful to elect a leader who has the heart of a servant.
And so it is with God. God creates us, gives us every good thing, and even the Holy Spirit that comes to the aid of our weakness. We are called to walk on our own, but to cry out to Him when we are weary. I can do this myself, but sometimes I can’t. Let us live as servant leaders in our homes, schools, and nation.