Nov 5, 2012

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MEDITATION: Living in a time of bad leadership

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…” – Mark 10:43b

We live in a time of bad leadership. The complaint of bad leadership is not unique to the South African scene – there is hardly a country in the world that doesn’t have serious questions of leadership right now. We know how the p16rophets of the Old Testament commented on bad leaders. One can name several examples of how they were quite frank and outspoken in their judgement of those who were in positions of great authority. But before we side with the prophets too soon in our own judgement, let us reflect. It is no coincidence that communities are said to deserve their leaders. People are actually known by their leaders, so who we have as leaders, also tells us something about who we are ourselves.

The servant song of Isaiah 53: 4-12, as well as the gospel reading of Mark 10:42-45, says quite radical things about leadership. The selected passage in Isaiah 53 is framed by promises of success and victory. Even though it seems like a recount of rejection and loss, this is actually a message of triumph and success. God’s people are in a seemingly hopeless situation where they experience themselves and the Righteous One in whom they trust, to be despised and rejected, to the point that they take it as a sign of God’s rejection.  Even so, this is a message of hope, a reminder that through such a leader, they will prosper.

It is the upside-down message of an alternative gospel. Surprisingly, the song praises the Lord’s humble and wounded servant as outcast who is the creator of community. Against the power abuse of leaders who cling to power and are “standing their ground”, we find only the vulnerability of an unimpressive servant. There’s not much bling or glamour in his woundedness!

We often measure people’s worth in terms of wealth, influence and fame; the leader to whom this text refers, voluntarily takes on suffering for the sake of others. Suffering is not glorified in any simplistic way, as becomes clear in the way the voluntary aspect is emphasized.

Does this servant song and gospel text teach us something of how to live in times of bad leadership?

Laurie Gaum

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