If we strive for greatness, we must strive to be the servant of others. This understanding of greatness might go against most everything we have heard and seen. But take a moment to remember those leaders we most admire, and I would bet that they have been some of the greatest servants. They exert their authority in serving others, not by exercising power over others. They form relationships of love rather than manipulation. They are willing to empty themselves for the sake of others and not expect anything in return. Even though most of us don’t have a title like Rabbi or Father, we each hold a position of power that we could translate into servanthood.
We all know that power over others, often experienced as manipulation or coercion, only works when the other person believes they are being watched or can be seen. It doesn’t usually continue on in life. We do know that the characteristics of Christ-like love are the basis of great morality. Not only do we have Jesus as an example of how to live, but we also see the effect that His relationships of love have on people who were formerly enemies. Criminals, betrayers, foreign occupiers and executioners have all been changed in mind and heart for the love of Jesus Christ, usually given to them through another person they know and trust.
It takes a discerning spirit to recognize those who are false leaders and those who are honest and trustworthy leaders. Jesus tells us not to follow the example of those who preach one thing and do another. This is called duplicity or being two-faced. We have known some people — and even ourselves — who have been that way sometimes. We put on the good face in a public sense, and then privately act in a different way. Blind rigidity is usually a mask for duplicity. Quick judgment of others is often reflective of an unwillingness to deal with that very situation in one’s own life.
We are coming near to the end of our Church year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King of the Universe. We are offered several weeks in which the Scriptures remind us that Christ must be the king of our universe and the world. Our intention should be to realign our personal lives to reflect that reality. In what ways have we been using our power over other human beings? Have we been putting burdens on others’ shoulders that we are not willing to assist them with? How often have we failed to listen to the circumstances of another person’s life before we decide how to exert power over them? Is Jesus Christ really the center of our life, or do we place our security in something or someone else?
Look around the individual circumstances of our lives and the communities with which we worship. Who within our family or friends needs to know that they are loved, unconditionally and without end? What might be happening within our community around Thanksgiving or during Advent in which we could show a humble usage of power and influence? Where are we acting overly proud, not putting our true selves out there to be known? Where are we relying on our own successes rather than the mercy of God?
Let us flex our muscles of humility and service and put down the weapons of manipulation and duplicity.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.