The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
The idea of servant leadership is a hot topic for me these days. As I and my friends prepare to be ordained as transitional deacons, the whole meaning of the word is encompassed in today’s Gospel reading. The Greek word, diakonos, means service. In Christ’s Kingdom, those who are to lead, are to serve, as He did.
The model for our service, and our leadership, is Christ on the Cross. Love who and what He loved … all the way to death. It’s a hard act to follow, but then, we’re not expected to do it alone. All of us are called to this kind of service, but especially those of us who are called to lead. There is no leadership in the Kingdom that is not service — none.
So we don’t get to widen our phylacteries (I’ve always wanted to use that word in my blog!) and we can forget about lengthening our tassels: the concept of Christian leadership isn’t just for show. And if our leadership is really authentic, then it won’t take wide phylacteries or long tassels to see it. This doesn’t mean we don’t wear clerical garb or anything like that; it simply means that the garb is the afterthought — service comes first.
If we have learned anything in these past few years about leadership, it ought to be that we can’t just get by on our looks. That gets us into trouble every time. Forget what it looks like, serve the Lord, serve His people, serve His Church, serve the Kingdom. If that’s where our focus is, everyone will see that, and people will be moved.
St. Paul says it well in today’s second reading from his first letter to the Church at Thessalonica:
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe.
Servant leaders do not ask people to bow and scrape to them. Instead, they roll up their sleeves, and work for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It is then that the Gospel gets preached not just in words, but in our very living. St. Francis said well that we are to preach the Gospel at all times, using words “when necessary.”
Our living is our preaching, and our preaching is our living.