If Jesus had written a short book on leadership, it wouldn’t have been “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Rather, it might be entitled “A Crushed Ego Absorbs Divinity More Readily.”
Didn’t He tell us again and again to “Take up your cross and follow me?” You see, a cross has a horizontal bar that represents our humanity and a vertical bar that represents divinity. At the juncture of the two bars, redemption takes place. In the clash of the two dimensions, the human and the divine, redemption can be chosen.
In the first reading for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Isaiah states: “The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.” Only an all-good God could say this. All the seeds that God created must lose their identity if they are to become fruit-bearing plants. So the Lord’s servant must lose his identity and offer himself up as a sin offering for God’s people.
In the eyes of the Roman soldiers, Jesus lost His identity as a leader through the crucifixion. Even the apostles thought the crucifixion put an end to Jesus as an earthly leader.
“He shall give his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him,” as we read in Isaiah. He who gives himself as a sin offering for others will have descendants far into the future. God accepts the sin offering of His servant as expiation for their sins. The suffering servant accomplishes the Lord’s will.
Because the suffering servant embraces the affliction offered by God, “He shall see the light in fullness of days; through his sufferings, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”
This suffering servant crushed by the Lord is not only Jesus, but includes each of us because the Lord calls us into leadership. We can’t become a leader imbued with qualities of leadership unless we first embrace the crushing of our ego so that His leadership qualities can enter us.
This happens every day in our lives in the smallest ways. Once, when St. Therese of Lisieux was novice mistress, a novice complained to her that she was grieved at her own lack of courage. St. Therese responded by asking her where her merit would be if she struggled only when she felt the courage.
We make the mistake of thinking that sainthood consists of responding only to the consolations experienced within. Was Jesus filled with consolation in the Garden when He entered into His passion? No. Instead, He chose to do the loving thing and embrace the crucifixion because it was the will of God.
When the smallest disappointments come our way, we have the opportunity to either be upset or to embrace them out of a love for Jesus. To embrace each disappointment out of a love for Jesus is allowing Jesus to enter and take over our heart. Eventually, our inner being will be transformed into becoming an extension of Jesus. Whatever He wants He can have! This takes perseverance and grace.
Therefore, the Book of Hebrews encourages us to keep Jesus as our leader and “let us hold fast to our confession.” “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” Becoming a saint isn’t our work, but the work of Jesus. He needs our permission to allow Him to make it happen.
That is when we become leaders, because Jesus is living in us and leading others to the Father through our actions.
The Gospel gives us all hope, because we get a glimpse of what Jesus is really up against in the apostles. He is on His way to Calvary, and they are arguing among themselves as to who is the greatest. (If I had been in Jesus’ place, I think I would have told the Father, “I think you chose the wrong leaders. I can’t work with these.”)
In starting with apostles so ungifted in self-sacrifice, Jesus gives us hope. He gives us a formula that works for everyone. No one is beyond the pale of redemption. If the Lord can crush our egos daily, and thereby equip us for ministry, there is hope for everybody.
Jesus’ response is devastatingly simple. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
The next time you are disappointed in a friend, you have a choice: Complain to your friend, or quietly embrace the disappointment and offer it up for the salvation of souls. With the latter, you will quickly forget the disappointment. You have just demonstrated leadership and allowed Jesus to change your inner being.
Charles de Foucauld once said that you can always find Jesus when you see someone doing the work that no one else wants to do. That person is a leader.
Has anyone ever offended you so intensely that you could not wait until you gave that person a piece of your mind? I was, so I gave the person a piece of my unredeemed heart. It cost me a lot of time in prayer and searching for how I could love that person in a peaceful way. This takes time and prayer, but it roots lasting change deep in our hearts.
I’ll bet that if in prayer you asked Jesus to teach you how you could be a better servant to others, He won’t be silent.