October 2, 2016

‘SERVANT LEADERSHIP’

BIBLE READINGS
Isaiah 52:13-53:9

Mark 10:35-45

REFLECTION

There is a children book that tells the story of the Rainbow Fish who was the most beautiful fish in the ocean because it had shining scales of different colours. But the Rainbow Fish was also very selfish and self-centred.

One day, the little Blue Fish asked the Rainbow Fish for one of its beautiful scales, but the Rainbow Fish refused. Because of this, the Rainbow Fish became very unlikeable in the ocean. It was not only the most beautiful fish; it was now the loneliest fish in the ocean as well.

So, the Rainbow Fish went to the wise Old Octopus and asked for its advice. The Old Octopus told the Rainbow Fish that if it wanted to be happy, it had to give away its beautiful scales to the other fish. The Rainbow Fish couldn’t imagine giving away its scales.

One day, however, when the little Blue Fish asked for one of its scales again, the Rainbow Fish reluctantly gave it to the Blue Fish. Soon after, the other fish asked for its scales and the Rainbow Fish gave away all of its beautiful scales until it had none left. Without its scales, the Rainbow Fish was no longer the most beautiful fish in the ocean, but it realized that it was now happier than before.[1]

Friends, the Rainbow Fish knew that happiness could be achieved not by becoming the greatest of all, but the servant of all. But somehow, Jesus’ disciples failed to understand this truth.

In our reading from Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. The disciples were hoping that in Jerusalem – the centre of Jewish social, political, and religious life - Jesus, the Messiah, would finally overthrow the Roman ruler and declare himself King!

But, previously, on two different occasions, Jesus had told his disciples that the Messiah would suffer and be killed (Mark 8:31 and 9:30-32). But, his disciples failed to understand him. They may have heard his words, but they didn’t really listen to them. They still expected that following Jesus would lead them to glory.

James and John, especially, wanted to be ahead of the other disciples so they asked for the seats next to Jesus when he became a king. Now, to be sitting on the left or right hand of a king was a great honour, and James and John wanted to make sure that Jesus would keep those seats for them. But, at the end of Jesus’ life, the only people who ended up on Jesus’s left and right hand were the bandits who were crucified with him (Mark 15:27). James and John were asking for something that they did not understand.

Indeed, Jesus offered a different kind of leader: a leader as a servant. Emperors and kings in his time had servants, many of them; and they were lavishly served. But, for Jesus, greatness was measured not by how much a person was served, but how much a person served. Controversially, he used as an example, of what a good leader should be, a person who was at the lowest level of the social ladder in ancient time: a slave. “To be great, one must be like a slave to others,” he said.

One characteristic of a slave was invisibility. A slave was invisible. He may be present, but his presence was not important enough to be noticed. Indeed, to be invisible was a ‘quality’ expected of a slave.

The house slaves in America before the 20th century, for example, must be as quiet as possible when they waited in the dining room while their masters was entertaining their guests. In one of the scenes in the movie, Django Unchained, one senior slave told a new slave that to survive in the house, she must stay in the “blindside”. To draw attention to herself would only bring problems.

Perhaps, this invisibility was a quality that Jesus looked for in a leader when he told his disciples that one who wanted to lead must be a slave to others. The great Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, once said, "A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."[2]

This description of a great leader as a slave matches the description of the humble servant in our reading in Isaiah. The humble servant in Isaiah was like a slave in the past. His presence was ignored, yet he had been sent by God to bring healing and wholeness. I am reminded of the words of John the Baptist when his disciples asked him about Jesus’ growing influence and popularity and what to do about it. John told his disciples, “I am not him, the Messiah; I am the one who has been sent before him.... He must increase in stature, but I must decrease.”[3]

We often think that a great leader is someone who stands in the front, leading and inspiring everyone else. But, Jesus imagined a different kind of leader. For him, anyone who wanted to be great must be a servant to others. He must be ready to become insignificant and be ignored as long as that means others are able to meet their needs; as long the work, which he has been called to do, is done. If one wants to be first, he must be ready to be last. It means that a great leader must never put him/herself ahead of the people he serves or the task he has been trusted with.

Friends, servant leaders exist to make other people’s dreams come true. They are willing to sacrifice their own victory because they always seek for the greatest good. In other words, servant leaders exist for the sake of others.[4]

May follow the example of Jesus, the Servant of God, who became weak and humbled himself so that he could be the source of salvation to all. May we too have the courage and willingness to put aside our desire for personal glory so that other people will shine and God be glorified.

Amen.
Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Who is the Greatest, on http://www.sermons4kids.com/who-is-greatest.html (Retrieved: October 15 2015)

[2] Paul Schmitz, Richard Murphy: A Powerful Example of Servant Leadership,

on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-schmitz/true-servant-leadership-f_b_3016044.html?ir=Australia (Updated on June 10 2013; Retrieved on October 15 2015)

[3] John 3:30 - ESV

[4] Tony Baron, A Moving Example of Servant Leadership, on http://www.servantleadershipinstitute.com/servant-leadership/a-moving-example-of-servant-leadership/ (Uploaded on March 30 2010; Retrieved on October 15 2015)