THE MARK OF LEADERSHIP – CHRIST THE KING
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 103, Luke 23:33-43
November 22, 1998 by Tad Mitsui
We will vote in a Provincial election in a week from tomorrow. I suspect that many of us are anxious about this, because our votes at this election may be crucial for the future of Quebec. However, the most unfortunate aspect of our election is the fact that we have to choose a party not a person. It is the party that decides in our system. So too much attention is given to the leaders of the parties, and many of us do not bother to find out who the candidates in our riding are. This is unfortunate. We have lost the practice to hold each of our representatives accountable. We are voting for a person who might as well be a dummy. We have to make each one of them responsible to us again rather than to their party leaders.
Traditionally, today is the last Sunday of the church calender year. It is called "Christ the King" or "Reign of Christ" Sunday. It is the last Sunday before the Advent – the season to prepare for Christmas. Today, we remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the true King. It is he who demonstrated all the marks of authentic leadership. If we think of Jesus Christ as the ideal leader, we will learn how to choose a good leader by examining political figures according to the standards of leadership Jesus Christ had set.
We must first notice the significance of the Scripture passages chosen for today to celebrate Christ as King. The Jeremiah passage speaks about the shepherds, and the Luke passage depicts the scene on the cross on which Christ died. The image of a shepherd projects an image of a leader who takes care of the flock. Christ himself portrayed his role as that of a shepherd. The cross is the symbol of forgiveness and self-sacrifice. The crucified shepherd is a lofty role model for our political leaders. We can not expect any human being to fully live up to the kind of a standard set by Christ. But we can set the Christ”s example as a 100% perfect score – "A+", and grade our political figures accordingly.
Let us think about the image of a shepherd. We have a long tradition in our religion of comparing leaders with shepherds. Jeremiah compared the kings with shepherds who destroyed and scattered the flock to pass judgement on the performance of the bad kings. Jesus told his disciples to be shepherds also. Our present day understanding of that comparison may not quite fit with what the Bible intended to say, because livestock have become commodities, not friends. But when the authors of the Bible used the image of a shepherd, the relationship between people and animals was much closer – almost as though animals were part of the family. They roamed the barren land together in search of grazing land, sharing the good times and bad. They depended on each other, and their emotional attachment to each other was strong.
So when the Bible compared the kings with the shepherds, the expectation was that they would behave like the ones who cared about the people as much as they did about themselves. The kings were expected to be more than parents. A shepherds is visible. The shepherd had to be seen by the flock, walked in front of them, and often exposed themselves to the danger of the elements before their animals. The shepherd exercised their leadership by being visible as well as by being caring. There is a risk that goes with being visible. Bill Clinton must have learned that lesson. A leader is expected to be a role model by being open and visible. It is true not just for the political figures, but for other public figures too, teachers and ministers included.
Sometimes the price for authentic leadership can be extremely high. In the case of Jesus Christ, the price of his leadership was death on the cross. He did not have to be so public about loving the sick, the poor and the outcasts more than the rich and powerful. He could have loved them quietly, in private. But the mark of Christ”s leadership was that he demonstrated his loving care in public so that others could see God”s love clearly revealed and would follow his example. His deeds spoke more loudly than his words. When he prayed even in his extreme suffering, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.", all his teaching about love and forgiveness became more credible than ever.
Human history records many persons who, like Jesus, paid the price of visible leadership. They met their demise because they tried to live out their beliefs. Peter and Paul were executed because they publicly professed their faith in Christ. Many martyrs followed their examples; some of them did so without the knowledge of Christ. In recent years, there were Mahatma Ghandi, Indira and Rajiv Ghandi, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Bishop Oscar Romero, and the most recently Itzak Rabine in Israel. I don”t think that they intentionally sought death. But they did not hesitate to express their conviction openly even though there was a risk in doing so. A Japanese saying has it, "A nail which sticks out inevitably will be hammered down." A leader must be seen when exercising leadership, and so sticks out like a sore thumb. A principled leader always takes a risk of being hammered down. A leader must be courageous to truly lead.
I can not say that all those human leaders I mentioned were perfect. In fact, all of them had flaws in their characters. But consciously or unconsciously, they all tried their best to live up to the standard of a perfect leader – Jesus Christ. Consequently, they paid the ultimate price in their sacrifice. As we stand in front of a ballot box, let us remind ourselves of the marks of a true leader. A true leader cares for us and is responsible to us. Also a true leader is ready to pay the price of leadership even at the expense of own demise. Most likely, we will have to settle for the very cheap and flawed version of a true leader. It is also possible that our riding will elect the wrong person for the wrong reasons. It is then our responsibility to demand their accountability and to make constructive criticism, according to the standard we believe in – of true leadership: Jesus Christ, the true leader of all other leaders, the crucified shepherd.