Is Greatness found in Servant-leadership or the “Will to Power?”

Reflection for the 25th Sunday. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London 


As a priest-friend of mine was rushing out for a sick call one early morning at about 4am, he heard a noise from inside his church so he stopped. When he opened the church door and turned on the lights, he was shocked at what he saw; there was the catechist with tools vandalising offering boxes. As he called the catechist by name, the catechist said something that was both moving and amusing; “Father, I did tell the Devil that he would betray me today, now see my life …”

If the catechist was sincere about his dialogue with the Devil, then he is relating to the struggles St. Paul himself had expressed in his Letter to the Romans: “The good that I would do, that’s what I don’t do. The evil that I would avoid, that’s what I do”.

We all can relate to this in various degrees; from the addict to the saint. To our credit, we don’t just fold our arms in the face of human weakness; so many self-help programmes have been developed; from psychology to spirituality to medicine. But this is really the problem – the confidence in our ability to save ourselves. If we can save ourselves, then we don’t have need for a saviour.

The great G.K. Chesterton had argued that original sin – the human tendency for evil, is the only doctrine for which there is manifest evidence; you only need to watch the 10 O’clock news.

Most of the breaking news are news of pure evil; stories of war and violence where the nations that supply the instruments of war are also the ones that provide the “humanitarian aids”.

Our readings this Sunday reflect this human tendency to evil. The First Reading bemoans the plot of the wicked: “Let us ambush the just man since he annoys and opposes our way of life…”

Jesus was a target because as a force for good, he had to be resisted by a sinful world. He predicted his impending violent death in the Gospel. The opposition to him came almost with the announcement of his birth as the King Herod massacred all newly born males in the bid to eliminate him. Things escalated as soon as he started his public ministry and came to climax with his crucifixion and death. He experienced the worst of human dysfunction as he was mocked even as he hung dying on the cross.

Think of how we despise the one acclaimed to be the good one among us. Even right from our primary school days, such a person is bullied, ambushed and terrorised after school. We simply can’t stand them.

At a recent Christmas play, the child acting the gatekeeper at the manger locked Joseph out after allowing Mary in. He was furious at Joseph because it was the part he wanted to play but a better boy got it.

The surest sign of our dysfunction is that we want to undermine the good one. We resent them because we are filled with fearful selfishness; their getting attention means that we are not getting attention.

We work with the warped mentality that if people go down then we can go up. We won’t openly admit it but deep down we are kind of happy that a certain person is in trouble. But if all were well with us, we will recognise that everything is a gift; whatever anyone has is a gift, all meant to give glory to God. So, we are to rejoice with those who have done well and sympathise with those who struggle. Living in the crippling grip of ambition or jealousy means that your happiness depends completely on other people. But if you let go, you can find your joy in God and live happily, independent of the attitudes of others.

Meanwhile, as Jesus predicted his approaching death for the second time in a row, the appalling reaction of the disciples betrays this fundamental human dysfunction. They argued among themselves concerning which of them is the greatest. How very weird! Were they listening at all to what he has just said? Ok, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and suppose that they are perhaps being realistic and thinking ahead about who will succeed Jesus as the leader when he eventually dies. In that case, Jesus turns things on their head as he tells them; “if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’

That’s not the idea of the leader which they have come to know; the leader is the one on the top, whose orders are carried out. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche fiercely attacked Christianity for having introduced into the world the “cancer” of humility and self-denial. In his work “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” he opposes this Gospel view of servant-leader with the “will to power” which is embodied by the superman, the man of “great health,” who wishes to raise, not humble himself.

Surely, the principle that he who wants to be the first should make himself the last doesn’t apply to cycling or Formula 1 races but it applies to all human endeavours in terms of how to go about achieving excellence – it shouldn’t be done at cost.  When excellence is pursued in Nietzsche’s way, in the worldly terms of power and might, the result is the idea of the superman as implemented by Hitler, Nietzsche’s kinsman. For Jesus however, true greatness lies in loving service. That is why the nanny or house-help who serves with love is adored by the children and commands respect from them than some children accord their parents who are lords over the nanny and house-help.

When do we really regard our bosses highly – when they boss everybody around or when they are caring and approachable? When are parents highly regarded – when they are domineering and manipulating or when they raise their children with sacrificial love? When are teachers really great and remembered with nostalgia by their students – when they are brutish and snobbish or when they go out of their way to support the students to excel? When is your parish priest great? Kindly leave your comments.

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