29 Sunday in Ordinary Time
The form of leadership that Jesus prefers is: servant leadership – the leadership of a servant! I heard a lovely story of servant leadership, and it was about king Oscar II, who was the king of Sweden at the turn of the century. He enjoyed visiting schools and talking informally with the children. Calling on a village-school one day, the king asked the children to name the greatest kings of Sweden. They named three: Gustavus Vasa; Gustavus Adolphus; and Charles xii.!! The teacher was embarrassed, and leaned over and whispered into a little boys ear: “say: king Oscar!” The little boy shouted out: “and king Oscar!” “really?” Said the king, “and what has king Oscar done that is so remarkable?” “I – I – I don’t know!” Stammered the little boy. “that’s all right, my boy,” said the king, “neither do i!” Children have a way of expressing their own truths, without the type of language which disguises our adult thinking.
In Matthew’s version of today’s gospel, Jesus brings the child to centre-stage, and instructs his disciples: “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children, in my name, welcomes me!” Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to become like children; he asks his disciples to welcome them. Were the disciples having a problem about welcoming ‘littleness’?? They were, you know!! For what were they arguing about on the road?? It was about which of them was the greatest! Amazingly, the disciples are not one bit interested in who will serve – but who will be the greatest!! They cannot comprehend the idea of helplessness, of humble service, of a vulnerability in Jesus that will expose him to those who lie in wait!
And in today’s gospel, you have James and john asking Jesus if they could sit on his right and left hand, when he makes it big!! Pointedly, Jesus replies, that in his kingdom, it is not about sitting. It’s about standing! Can you? Will you? Stand by me? Stand for me? Stand for what I am all about? For Jesus is about servant-leadership, which is the opposite of what we usually experience around us. For we usually experience a leadership that is full of power and greed. They are far, far from Jesus teaching: “whoever wishes to be great among you, will be your servant, the servant of all!” That radical teaching of Jesus is a deep spirituality to live by: “the more power I have, the more respect I must show; the more service I must give; the more aware of the ‘small people’ in life I must be!” Last year , a test was given to a new class of students in their first year, in the college of surgeons in Dublin. Most of the students did well in the test, until they came to the last question, which they all left blank.
The question was: “What is the first name of the lady who cleans this area of the college every morning?” The students thought the question was a joke, until they found out that 10 marks had been allocated to the question. When they protested, the professor said: “in your careers, you will meet many people. All of them are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you can do is smile, and say “hello”! Servant leaders notice the small people of this world.
And that is a picture of pope Francis, as he speaks out against global corruption, and speaks up for the refugees and the homeless!! And it is just like Jesus. For he notices the child; he notices the sinful woman; he notices the small man up a tree; he notices the beggar and the cripple; he notices the sinner; he notices the bereaved; he notices the stray – and the lost. And he notices you, and he notices me. We are significant and important to him. And he says: “come to me! Come to me all you who labour, and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. For I am gentle and humble of heart, and I will give rest for your souls!! ”
Martin Loftus SDB, Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland