What Does It Mean To Lead?

Do as I say, not as I do. Jesus charged the Pharisees with having this attitude, as we are told in the gospel reading from Matthew this week.  It was true that the Pharisees and scribes were experts in the Law and their rulings held sway even among the Jewish Christians in Matthew’s audience; after all, they sat in the “seat of Moses”, the leader’s chair found at the head of the congregation in the synagogue.  But Jesus’ critique ran deeper than words contradicted by actions. He wanted His community to be marked by humility. No one should seek ambition for its own sake, but be willing to serve. For Jesus, leadership was rooted in service and example.  In other words, do as I say because I am willing to do it myself.

So what does it mean to lead? Jesus implicitly asks that question in Matthew’s gospel. The narrative was a variation on the request of James and John found in Mark 10:35-45 but this time the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked the question: “Let my sons sit on your right and your left when you enter your kingdom.”  Since these positions were the second and third most powerful seats in a kingdom, their request angered the other disciples. They considered it audacious and unfair. The Lord used the question as a teachable moment to answer the question of leadership, using His ministry, indeed His own life, as an example: “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?”

For Jesus, leadership meant service, even to the point of death. Glory could only come through suffering, resurrection only through death.  The moral as stated in Matthew 20:26-28:

 “Whoever desires to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  stood in stark contrast with the Machiavellian view (20:25): “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them”. 

One does not grasp at leadership (eg: the mother’s request noted above).  No, one gives to lead as Jesus indicated by His answer as above. Notice His answer had sacramental overtones. One drank from the cup Christ drank in the Eucharist; one was immersed in the baptism the Lord would suffer. In other words, Christian worship celebrated and emulated the leadership of the Lord. For Christians, the sacraments answer the question: what does it mean to lead?



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