Politics is an important profession, and I would go so far to say that, especially when engaged with a strong sense of social service, it is a noble profession. However, we also know that ego is in no short supply in the profession. It always amuses me how, without fail, new leaders, upon victory, always state how humbled they are by their appointment. Yet, one could argue, quite well I think, it is not humility that has brought the new leader to the moment.
Against the background of political drama, the Gospel this Sunday highlights the questions about who is greatest and who has power. We are invited by the account to reflect on the nature of greatness, leadership, and power. Power is not necessarily something that is bad. The capacity for agency, the capacity to effect change, the capacity to bring people together are all things we need people to discover in themselves and to exercise. It would be a false humility that eschewed this and avoided the risk of exercising the leadership that might belong to me.
One of the most important ingredients of leadership is motivation. If someone wants to be a leader then they will be a leader. Yes, if they don’t have a certain innate capacity for it, and if they haven’t refined their skills, their leadership may not be particularly positive. But it is the motivation to lead that, in fact, determines whether someone will lead or otherwise. Motivation is the essential ingredient. And of course, not just motivation, generally – but motivation, specifically.
What motivates someone to be a leader? Is it the motivation for power which compensates a fragile personality? Is it the motivation to live out some fantasy of an idealized self? Or is it the motivation genuinely to change the world for the better, to create a difference in the world so that the lives of others may be different, so that society itself might be a more human place in which to live? What motivates us to lead will determine the effect of our leadership. And lest we think here that leadership is about position and role, let us think again. This is the lesson of the gospel today. The most important form of leadership is not contingent on the role or the status that we have. That is why Jesus puts forward a child as the model. The child in first century Palestine as a person completely without status. And so, Jesus is implying that the leadership we are to seek is to be of a different nature than the leadership that might be known by its control over others. Leadership is about dying to oneself so that others might live. If this is what motivates our life then our genuine leadership will be undeniable, no matter the position we have.
We find the kind of leadership into which Jesus invites us in the most unlikely places, and in people who would never think of themselves as leaders. I think of a beautiful comment made by Pope Francis in an interview when he remarked:
“I see the sanctity of God’s people, this daily sanctity. I see the holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as . . . taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. This is the sanctity of the militant church also mentioned by St. Ignatius. This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved me so much. In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.”
These are the real leaders according to the life of the gospel. Yes, we may revel in our stars and celebrities, whether they be in politics or sport. They offer us something beyond the ordinariness of our lives, someone to carry our hopes, and even through whom we might have our secret dreams fulfilled. But in our desire for success and achievement we can forget where real greatness is occurring.
Look around! It is occurring beside you.
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