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Leadership of True Power

A Sunday Reflection

By Ron Calderon, CJM

In this pandemic, the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has been dubbed as one of the best leaders. Her country remains the most effectively managed nation in the pandemic with only about 28 covid deaths out of the more than 5 million Kiwis. International political analysts attribute Ardern’s successful Covid-19 campaign to her style of leadership. According to New Zealand’s former prime minister, Helen Clark, The current prime minister “doesn’t preach at [her constituents]; she’s standing with them…They may even think that [they sometimes don’t] quite understand why [the government] did [this or] that, but I know she’s got our back. There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy.”

Jacinda Ardern is a leader who is described as someone who stands and empathizes with the people. We can say that she exudes a style of servant-leadership that made their country’s Covid-19 response one of the best in the world. This pandemic has shown that servant leadership could outperform traditional politics and conventional political models.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are portrayed in the gospel reading like politicians. They were candid in their desire to become the greatest disciples of Jesus. They want to make sure that they get the highest positions in the future kingdom of their Lord, thinking that the kingdom of Jesus would be a worldly kingdom similar to that of King David. They did not understand that the glory of the Kingdom of God promised to them is not of this world.

In addition, if we look at the behavior of the disciples, their indignation to the brothers is also an indication that they abide by the same kind worldly motivation.

Isn’t the behavior of the apostles, especially the sons of Zebedee, so familiar in our local political scene here in the Philippines? Now that the national election is fast-approaching, some politicians aiming to run for positions have started forging alliances with the presidential candidates they deem would ensure a place for them in the next national administration. These political animals would pledge hefty financial support for the winnable presidential candidate in exchange for an appointment in the national cabinet perhaps, or as a director of some national bureau.

Jesus, in our gospel, shakes James and John and the other apostles from their worldly nepotistic lust for power. He explains the workings of the Kingdom of God to the disciples with calmness and gentleness of a loving and merciful teacher but shakes his disciples nonetheless. He knows that even these faithful and good disciples can be drawn to the worldly amid his constant guidance. He teaches them that those who are to sit at his right and left in his kingdom are “those for whom it has been prepared.” The kingdom of God is beyond this world, divine and eternal. God who prepares his leaders of the eternal city is the only one worthy to know who rightfully seat at the right and left of the heavenly king.

Then our Lord explains how to attain power. True power can be achieved through servant leadership: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” Moreover, Jesus demonstrated servant leadership through his noble example, a life dedicated to the will of God, a life that is willing to suffer and die for the sake of his friends.

Of course, Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand does not lead with the Messianic model but her leadership is still marked with servanthood. Her servanthood encouraged national cooperation and concerted efforts to combat the dreaded pandemic. Probably because of her personal touch in leading, the people of New Zealand effectively listened and followed. Come to think of it, the example of New Zealand proves that servant leadership is a leadership model that is both viable and effective even in worldly affairs.

We hope that leaders learn from Ms. Ardern or from the very epitome of servant leadership, our Lord Jesus. It is the hope among Christians that leaders who would like to live and lead without compromising their faith can do so and do so effectively and successfully. Moreover, we Christians, as friends of Christ, drink from the cup of servanthood. So as leaders in our own right, in various ways, big or small, may we lead in the image of Our lord and savior.

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