A child’s vulnerability is their inability to hide behind any kind of facade that can control others. But we adults learn quickly that we must hide our true selves in order to manage others, pursue our goals, and avoid things we fear. This refusal to be authentically vulnerable and insistence to put on the appearance of strength and control is what Jesus warns may ruin our relationship with God. As leaders, we know that this inclination to not be our true selves damages our relationships with others as well.
Jesus contrasts two very familiar first-century characters: a Pharisee and a tax-collector. Perhaps Jesus’s listeners wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Jesus challenge the smugness of the Pharisee, but to praise a tax-collector would certainly have been unexpected. Jesus raises up the value of a person’s honesty, sincerity, and straightforwardness when it comes to one’s relationship with God. And he implies that his true followers will embrace an authenticity that will be noticed by God and others.
Jesus had a way of using questions to help people see better… Leaders become good at asking questions that help others see barriers in their lives and in their world. But leaders more importantly need to live a compelling life that forces people to ask the right kinds of questions, challenging assumptions and leading people to make choices for a better life revolving around Christ.
When a blind beggar cries out to Jesus for mercy, Jesus decides to ask the man what he wants. Isn’t it obvious? A blind beggar obviously needs to be healed! But Jesus respects the man by not assuming, but instead asking an empowering question that allows for the one in need to express his desire. Just this one observation of Jesus’s leadership speaks volumes to how we should engage with those we serve.
Yesterday, we reflected on Jesus as a revolutionary communicator who connected with people by coming near to them. In today’s passage, we see Jesus coming near in powerful and vulnerable ways by taking on the role of a servant. As a pastor and speaker, I can sometimes rely too much on my words to exercise leadership. Jesus, as a revolutionary communicator, was certainly an expert with his words, but his life modeled putting those words into action.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus connects with people. He touches lepers, dines with outcasts, prays for the unclean, enters Samaritan villages, and cries with the grieving. Jesus, the prophesied Immanuel, made it a leadership habit to come near, enter in, and be present. We continue the ministry of Jesus when we cry with others, listen to their stories, and are simply present. We can carry the presence of Jesus wherever we go.
Jesus was attentive… Attention-giving can be especially difficult in a culture where attention-getting is so highly valued. Being attentive can be hard amidst Facebook posts, work deadlines, and endless emails. But numerous opportunities to join God in his kingdom work abound daily for those who cultivate a lifestyle of attentiveness to God’s will, to self-care, and to others’ needs.
What can we expect to learn from Jesus about communicating in a modern world, when he didn’t have to compete for the attention of people immersed in emails, podcasts, text messages, Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, and emerging virtual reality technologies? Can growing our skills of attentiveness help us connect with people who give their attention to these powerful technologies?
Yesterday, we reflected on the life of Saint Patrick and the legacy he left as a leader. Patrick was known for purposely building relationships with the pagan chiefs in order to reach entire villages, setting up hundreds of churches and monasteries as each village king allowed. Some argue that the Celtic Christian movement finds its roots in Patrick’s legacy. And one of its hallmarks was the practice of hospitality.
Though I’m no scholar of Saint Patrick, I know his legacy leaves a rich bounty of lessons to consider in our modern context that go far beyond the superficial and commercialized ways that we are far too familiar with. St. Patrick, like the Apostle Paul, had a life worthy of emulation that speaks to us today… Suffering didn’t paralyze him, selflessness guided him, and sensing God’s direction was a priority.