We recently remodeled our entire house, and with all the new stuff came a lot of new rules for the family. For example, since our carpet is now beautiful and not dirty and frayed, we don’t wear shoes inside. And because we have lovely (and expensive) new furniture, we are not allowed to eat in the family room or living room. No eating or drinking in the bedrooms, either.As you might imagine, the kids don’t like the new rules, and unfortunately, I am usually the one that breaks them. I forget to take my shoes off, or grab a snack and sit down on the couch and turn on the television. They swarm on my like a SWAT team. “You can’t do that!” The rules are really for them, not for the adults, but that argument goes nowhere, especially with the teenager. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus addresses the behavior of the religious leaders of the day. “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses,” Jesus says. “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”This is about the worst thing you can about a spiritual leader — that he or she doesn’t live by their own teaching. We’re not talking about a small failure to live up to high standards. This is not about the occasional shoes in the house or snacks on the couch. This is about leaders who have completely lost sight of their original calling and commitment. While it is always tempting to covet power and authority over others, if we give into that temptation we will join the ranks of those who preach but don’t practice. If we exalt ourselves we will be humbled.
“They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders,” Jesus continues, “but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.”
Jesus tells his followers, the future leaders of the Christian faith, that leadership is not a social privilege to be coveted or used for personal gain. You don’t become a leader by giving yourself a salary and a title. You earn leadership through service.
“Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant,” he says. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
We live in a culture that seems obsessed with self-promotion and that covets authority. Our nation seems frustrated with political leaders of each party, who seem detached from the burdens the rest of us are asked to bear. While we’re losing jobs, homes and savings, they’re debating debt limits and posturing for the next election. While denouncing taxation, they live well at taxpayers’ expense.
If leaders seems out of touch, it is probably because they are. They want to be masters, not servants. Lest we just point fingers at others, it is important to remember that we are all called to be servants. While it is always tempting to covet power and authority over others, if we give into that temptation we will join the ranks of those who preach but don’t practice. If we exalt ourselves we will be humbled. Jesus is our guide as the servant leader, who doesn’t lay heavy burdens on us, he carries them for us.
Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]