Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time| Year B
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said t them. ‘Can you drink the cup which I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’
When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
James and John made their claim for status with their request to have the seats on either side of Jesus. Their claim upset the other ten; it is not clear whether they were upset because they saw how inappropriate the request was, or because they thought James and John had got in ahead of them in the quest for status.
Jesus responds to the growing problem among his followers by “calling them to him”. In doing this he shows one of the primary characteristics of the servant-leader he talks about to the apostles. His focus is on people, on forming them, helping them settle disputes, teaching them, building community among them.
Robert Greenleaf was one of the pioneers of the servant leadership philosophy which is now widespread. In his essay “The Servant as Leader” Greenleaf wrote:
“It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…”
The servant leader focuses on the personal development of the people he or she is responsible for, helping them to solve problems, relate well to one another and to reach their full potential. This commitment to the growth of people springs naturally from the servant leader’s belief in the intrinsic value of every person.
Because others come first the true servant leader is invariably humble and does not seek to impose ideas or practices. He/she has a naturally participatory style, both delegating and supporting the person delegated to, and involving others in decision-making. Good ideas are welcomed whoever comes up with them, which encourages a creativity and innovation. The servant leader provides a safe environment in which people can develop without being suppressed by the dominating ego of an autocratic leader.
Jesus was always at the service of his disciples. He took everyone possible opportunity to teach them and form them, even if he had to delay something else in order to do this work when an opportunity presented. He sent the disciples off on missions, debriefed them on their return, and constantly shaped their thinking about their brand new experiences as the first missionaries.
It is a blessing to work with a true servant leader. Every follower of Jesus who has responsibility for others (including parents) is called to be a servant leader, to collaborate with Jesus in the work of helping others to “have life and to have it to the full”.