By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Are We Worthy to Serve?

Quick answer: we certainly are not. Yet, Jesus chooses us anyway. Was Peter worthy to serve after denying Jesus three times? Was Paul worthy to serve after being an accomplice to the death by stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr? Were any of the apostles worthy to serve even if they bickered in an unseemly manner about who would be the greatest?

Three points come to mind when we are invited to assume leadership roles and when our first reaction is to pull back from the invitation:

1. It is a good sign to be genuinely and sincerely reluctant. One lesson from the Old Testament is clear: the one who wants to be king is not qualified to be king (see the parable of the trees in Judges 9 in the postscript below). The same is true of the great prophets: from Moses on, we have prophets who are reluctant. It's robustly healthy to be sincerely reluctant to take on leadership roles.

2. We keep falling back into the lie that leadership implies that we are somehow holier than others and that therefore we cannot take on such roles. Well, if anyone thinks leadership in the Church or in the parish implies greater holiness, then they are woefully naive and need to grow up. Someone has to do certain tasks which are more a matter of skills and reliability than comparative holiness.

3. Yet, at the same time, the leader must, all the more, strive to serve because Christian leadership is no more and no less than utterly humble foot washing. You have to practice that humility and ask for more of it continually. The real test for the Christian leader is not whether he or she is comparatively holier than others but whether he or she exhibits humility in service. If you are sincerely reluctant and if you can be humble, then you are ready to lead. Those to whom such reluctance or humility are foreign experiences, in contrast, should flee any leadership roles that they currently hold or that may be offered in the future, until they have these experiences.

Biblical Postscript:

Judges 9:8-15 (RSV) 8 The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, `Reign over us.' 9 But the olive tree said to them, `Shall I leave my fatness, by which gods and men are honored, and go to sway over the trees?' 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, `Come you, and reign over us.' 11 But the fig tree said to them, `Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over the trees?' 12 And the trees said to the vine, `Come you, and reign over us.' 13 But the vine said to them, `Shall I leave my wine which cheers gods and men, and go to sway over the trees?' 14 Then all the trees said to the bramble, `Come you, and reign over us.' 15 And the bramble said to the trees, `If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'

Notice that the healthy and fruitful trees were reluctant to take over because they were content and fulfilled with their current situation. Notice that the bramble, though, was eager to be anointed king over the trees even though he did not really have much to offer.