The Leadership of Jesus – Christ the King 2021
We celebrate today the Feast of Christ the King. The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is commemorated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time. Next Sunday will take us into a new liturgical year. This final Sunday of the Church year is a good time for us to ponder the leadership of Jesus and the ways in which he invites us to imitate his style.
The phrase servant leadership is often used to sum up the leadership modeled by Jesus of Nazareth in his earthly ministry. Pope Francis is coming from that angle when he suggests that priests should have the smell of the sheep. Such leadership is characterized by service and humility. We get a glimpse of this in the Old Testament account of the anointing of David as king over Israel. It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel. That reading is occasionally used on this day. Common words in the descriptions of David’s leadership are patience, humility, courage, faith and grace.
Jesus follows in the line of King David and acts as shepherd in the Gospel. He stands in sharp contrast to the so-called leaders referred to in today’s Gospel and to many authorities in our world.
Look at Jesus’ leadership style exercised in the washing of the feet at the Last Supper. Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord. … If I, then, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. And then there is the occasional reminder of the way Jesus’ teaching made a deep impression because he taught them with authority. That authority was made manifest in his deeds, not just his words. Many of those deeds are dramatic; others are very gentle and tender. In one of the accounts of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus is described as coming ashore and having compassion on the people, because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus the leader is not afraid to challenge those whom he senses need that challenge. But he also knows how to affirm the ones who are bent over and living with fear, bondage and physical infirmity.
Henri Nouwen wrote of three temptations of a Christian leader: to be relevant, to be spectacular and to be powerful. He suggests that Jesus’ model of servant leadership invites us to move from concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us. Nouwen says that it was only in his radical move to living in a L’Arche community that he really discovered what it was to exercise that leadership. Let us pray on this Feast of Christ the King for the grace to experience the connection between the leadership of Jesus and the call to smell like the sheep.