This is the lent season. It is important for us to focus on the Sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross during this period. We know that the lent season ends with the last supper. The last supper was celebrated in the old testament days as the Passover meal. So let us start this day with a remembrance of the Passover meal which happened 2000 years ago.
2000 year ago, a leader asked his followers to arrange a room for them for supper, for the Passover meal. The followers went ahead with the arrangements and made all the arrangements that they thought will please the leader. The evening came and they all congregated for supper. The leader realised that the followers have left out one small detail. Those times there were not air-conditioned cars to bring the people for supper. They had to walk to their destinations. The people who gathered all had dirty feet, due to the walking, and the followers had overlooked the need for a servant to wash their dirty feet. The leader looked around and saw that none of the followers were volunteering to do this menial job. So the leader got up, took the basin in his hands, took off the garment that was wrapped around his waist and washed and wiped the follower’s feet one by one, much to the dismay of the followers. This came to be recorded as the greatest act of servant hood, and the greatest act of leading. The first act of Servant Leadership was borne. Sounds familiar?
Only John records the washing of the disciples’ feet in the gospels, though the servanthood teachings given by Jesus during the last supper are there in all the gospels. It is interesting to note how John introduces the readers to this solemn ceremony of washing the feet. John13: 1 says “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love”. He now showed them the full extent of His love. Isn’t it interesting to note that Jesus started this demonstration of the “full extent of His love” with the act and message of servanthood? We serve that leader who taught us that to conquer, you have to stoop down, that to lead you have to serve. The message of Servant Leadership is very apt for us to remember during this lent season.
In a world where modern business proclaims that good leadership teaches self- advancement at all cost, the servant leadership model of Jesus stands in sharp contrast. Much of what is done in today’s church is influenced by the business world. Goals and objectives are used to measure one’s effectiveness. Self-actualization is extolled as a virtue and success is measured by the size of a leaders’ congregation. In contrast to the world’s methods of advancement, the teachings of Christ bid us to humble ourselves, take up a cross, and follow His example as a leader who sacrifices so that others may be advanced.
Robert Greenleaf, who is known as the father of the modern day secular literature on Servant Leadership says this about checking whether one is a Servant Leader or not. “The best test is: Do those served, grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely them selves to become servants?” In other words, a servant leader is one, who lets the “follower” become greater than the “followed”. The “apprentice” becomes more skilful than the “master”. The “student” becomes “wiser” than the teacher. Noble ideas, but are they really practical? Is this question not valid for us in the Church today more than ever? Who do we see grow in today’s churches and Christian organisations? Do we see the Leaders grow in stature, wealth, wisdom, health etc or do we really see the congregation members outgrow the leader? How many leaders will consciously and selflessly let the disciples grow more than himself/ herself?
I would like us to ponder over this point, using two examples from the bible.
Let us go back to the story of Saul and David. After David slay Goliath, Saul started admiring him and asked him to stay with him in his palace. Bible records that Saul gave David a high rank in the army. However, after this initial period of admiration and love, Saul becomes very bitter at David, and does all that is possible to eliminate him from the scene. Let us take a look at how that turn-around happened? 1 Samuel 18:7-9 describes the root cause of the enmity between Saul and David . After David becomes the official “Philistine slayer” for God’s people, the people of Saul’s kingdom starts to admire David more than Saul. “ 7So the women sang as they danced, and said: “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” 8Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9So Saul eyed David from that day forward. “ Saul was unable to bear the thought that David, a man whom he appointed as his soldier was receiving greater praise and respect than himself in his kingdom. This is ancient story. But how often do we see this in today’s churches and Christian organisations? How often do we see this in any walk of life that we can look at.
Lat us look at the life and ministry of another Saul, the new testament Saul who is more popularly known as Paul. All of know the important role Paul has played in Christianity and the early church especially. Our new testament would not have been the same without Paul’s letters to the different Churches. When we look at the life and ministry of Paul, we realise that the ministry could have been entirely different if it were not for one person named Barnabas. Barnabas is first introduced to us in Acts 4:36-37. His actual name was Joseph and the name of Barnabas was given to him by the apostles. The name Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement”. He did some thing amazing with Paul. When Paul came to Jerusalem after his “conversion” the apostles were still doubtful about him. Actually the Bible says that they were afraid of him (Acts 9:26). Now many of us will not think about picking up for a controversial person, till we know about the thoughts of the influential ones around. If some one with a bad record, let us say , criminal record, wants to join our church, and approaches some of the newer members of the church, it is very likely that the new members of the church would want to know the views of the so called :elders” of the church before giving a commitment. Paul’s reputation was even worse. He was “credited” with persecuting and killing Christians. For the apostles, the memory of Stephen getting stoned to death, and Paul watching this and endorsing that barbaric act was still fresh in their minds. So it was not easy for Paul to have been accepted into the fold of the disciples. This is where Barnabas comes in. Barnabas decided to take the risk of accepting Paul and speaking up for him. Barnabas believed in Paul even before anyone else did. Barnabas endorsed Paul’s leadership to other leaders. Because of Barnabas’ endorsement, Paul gets accepted by the apostles and the Church. But Barnabas does not stop his association with Paul there. Barnabas further seeks out and partners with Paul at Antioch, and from there gets his first missionary “assignment” along with Barnabas. The rest is history.
So we see two contrasting approaches in King Saul and Barnabas, when it comes to accepting, encouraging and contributing to the greatness of others. Saul despised it and became bitter. Barnabas enjoyed it and encouraged it. Which category do we belong to? I am sure all of us wish to be in the category of Barnabas. But this Lenten morning, God is asking us to really examine our hearts, and see if we really mean it. I am not saying that we are not compassionate, or we are not generous, or charitable, or helpful. We sure are. But the message of Servant Leadership is not in just helping some one through. The message of Servant Leadership is about consciously investing in others so that the one whom we invested in, become greater than ourselves. I am sure all of can testify to the “help” that we provided for many people who have come into our lives. Our maids, our subordinates, our neighbors, etc. But how many of can really say that we have done some thing that made the other person greater than ourselves?
Now, we have every reason to say that this is a hard ask. This is difficult to do. Yes of course, Jesus’ examples are not always easy to imitate. We can always say, Jesus was God (and is God), so he could do those things, we are human and hence it is not possible for us to do all things.
Jesus thought differently. Let us look at John14: 12, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. “ This is a loaded statement. Jesus is surely saying that his disciples or his followers can do all things he does, and greater works. However, this ability to do greater works, comes with one condition and under one assurance. The condition is that we should believe in Jesus Christ, and it is based on the assurance that Jesus was going back to the Father. Jesus surely has gone back to His father, and the only thing left for us to do is to believe in Jesus, and He assures us that we can do greater works than Him. And in everything, he continues to say” I am with you.”
Let us look at John 13:12-17 again. Jesus says, now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. And he says surely you can do all things through me if you believe in me. This lent morning I ask you to do this. If you have accepted Jesus Christ and believe in Him, seek his help to follow his actions. If you have not yet accepted Jesus Christ, and are yet to really believe in Him, I encourage you to take that decision now.
Let us Pray
Benediction: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.