The Gospel is filled with “Oxymorons” (a combination of words that have opposite or very different meanings; e.g. jumbo shrimp). The Gospel says you must die to live, empty yourself to be filled, give to receive. This Sunday, the 29th in Ordinary Time, we will hear that a leader is one who serves! For a leader to be a servant seems to be a contradiction. But recent writings on corporate leadership agree. In 1970 Robert Greenleaf coined the term “Servant Leadership” and described it as one who seeks first to serve, and as a servant then makes a conscious choice to be in a position of leadership. The servant leader is first concerned about the well-being of the ones who he/she is leading. Then, as they grow, so too will the organization.
It seems Jesus was 2,000 years ahead of his time! In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says; “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
We are called to be like Jesus, to be Servant Leaders, to give ourselves to the work of empowering others to become better people, and in that way, making the world a better place. But how does one help another become a better person, hence helping to make the world a better place? I remember asking myself these very questions as I discerned my call to become a Franciscan. I was working as an engineer for the Aerospace industry. I loved my work, but I could not say it was making the world a better place. God was calling me to do something different, but what would really make a difference? I visited an acquaintance in Baltimore while on a business trip. He had been the guitarist in the rock band of a woman I was dating. He had recently left the music scene in LA, and returned home. He acknowledged that he was an alcoholic, and was trying to change his life. He shared how at his darkest moment, he called out to God. A man was passing by on a bicycle at that moment, and from some of his belongings on the back of the bicycle, a bible fell out and laid on the ground as the man drove away. My acquaintance picked up the bible, read it, and it changed his life!
I was honored to be in the presence of such a courageous and open person. It caused me to open up. I shared with him how I was searching for a way to serve, to make the world a better place. He listened, and then asked; “Well there are many problems in the world, why not just pick one and jump in?” That simple question stayed with me in prayer for many months. Is it that simple? Could I just pick any problem and work on it? That approach still lacked meaning and purpose for me. Then my answer came to me in prayer. It occurred to me, that just as Jesus was the answer to my acquaintance’s alcoholism, so too is Jesus the answer to all our world’s problems. The one cause, that is the solution to all the world’s problems, is to lead others to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, so He can make them better persons!
For me, being a Servant Leader is to empower others to become better persons by coming to know Jesus. In doing this, I believe I am helping the world become a better place. I am sharing in the ministry of Jesus, bringing about the Kingdom of God, and the Salvation on the world. I chose to lay down my life for the sake of the Gospel, and join the Franciscan Order. Since becoming a friar I have taught high school, worked as a hospital chaplain, run a food pantry, after school program, and participated in street ministries to reduce violence in an inner city neighborhood, and am currently serving as a parish priest. How about You? What cause will you live for? Why not the cause that will address all the world’s problems? Why not live for the One who can make people better, and in so doing make the world better? Why not serve Jesus and lead others to Him? We can all be Servant Leaders; in our jobs, in our families, in our communities, as single, and as married persons. But God may also be calling you, like He called me, to do this in Religious Life, as a Priest, Sister or Brother.