“You know that the rulers of this world have power over the people and the leaders have complete authority. But it shall not be so among you…(Mark 10:35-45)”
In 2006, I was part of a group of church leaders who visited the People’s Republic of China as guests of the China Christian Council and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). I observed that the protocol officer would always give careful attention to the seating arrangement. Whether in business meetings or at banquets, we would always be meticulously arranged in the order of importance.
At some point, I was seated either at the left or the right of a major dignitary and it made me feel good to be close to power. Cameras and people’s attention are focused on the celebrity and when you are near the popular figure, you somehow share the limelight.
I could therefore understand why the apostles James and John, the sons of Zebedee, would ask Jesus about their place in the seating arrangement: “Teacher, we want you to do for us…When you sit on your throne in your glorious kingdom, we want you to let us sit with you, one at your right and one at your left” (Mark 10:35-37). Like me, they wanted to share the limelight.
The problem arose when the ten other apostles overheard it and got jealous because they too wanted to be on the same spots. There was no Chinese protocol officer to announce the seating order and so the team was thrown into chaos as the spirit of envy and personal ambitions threatened their unity.
Leadership often has two challenges: technical and adaptive. Technical challenge refers to the traditional functions of authority which are to provide direction, protection and order. Adaptive challenge refers to how a leader responds to the dynamics of power when a community experiences conflict and disorder. Jesus demonstrated adaptive leadership by redefining power: “If you want to be great in the Kingdom, you must be the servant of all; and if you want to be first, you must be the last of all. For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).
Leadership from human perspective has always been one of authority and power. Whenever one’s security is threatened, leaders would invoke that power: physical, military, social, political or ecclesiastical. For example, whenever a country’s security is threatened by another country, it is almost automatic that the government of that country, would parade its armed forces, not necessarily to fight but as a show of force.
From his perspective as God-come-down, Jesus taught that ultimate power is achieved through powerlessness and ultimate authority is gained by relinquishing that authority. St. Paul expounded the power of powerlessness to the Christians in Philippi. Philippi was the city named after the powerful King Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great and Philippians are awed with power. Paul explained: “Though He was God, Jesus did not count equality with God a power to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death...Therefore God has highly exalted him and given Him a name that is above every name...” (Philippians 3:6-8).
The glorious Kingdom, which the apostles had imagined was not the same as the kingdom that Jesus envisioned: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Leadership in that Kingdom is defined not by the power that would make one feel secure or important but by a total abandonment of such power and in total vulnerability to the will of God.
In this season of Lent, let us reflect upon our leadership as God’s servants in the world. By the relationship we create, by the words we say and by the works we do, let us lead as Jesus leads. Amen.