We are leaders. What I mean is many of us have become leaders in one way or another. Perhaps some are CEOs of big corporations or directors of national or international organizations, but those who had no experience of leading a big group of people could be parents or grandparents leading their children or grandchildren, or perhaps a teacher helping a class of teenagers, or a student leader in school, or an officer of a church organization. At least at one point in our life, we have directed, guided, taught, mobilized or instructed people under our care. We could have become an influential person in the lives of our friends, neighbors and colleagues. In our role as leaders unconsciously or consciously we looked at other leaders as model for their leadership style.
Today’s gospel, mentions someone worth emulating as a leader, John the Baptist.
We can read from the gospels that John the Baptist was acknowledged widely in Israel as a prophet. He was a man of faith, who proclaimed a divine message of truth that made many people uncomfortable. Moreover, he lived in simplicity and self-denial: “clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6). His life mission was to lead people to repent for their sins and encourage them to be baptized with water to signify purification in preparation for the coming of the Son of God.
John the Baptist has several qualities worth emulating. He is a man of his word. His proclamations, his prophetic words are consistent with his entire being and actions. He is a prophet who in most likelihood communed with God constantly in prayer. We find in the gospel pericope how close he is to God when God himself told John who Jesus was among the crowd going for baptism at the Jordan.
Also as a prophet, John lived in faithfulness to the Lord God, living only in the Divine truth. This makes his words and actions consistent and courageous. John is a man who did not fear the opinion of influential people and those who were in positions of power. He only fears the doom of a person unprepared to face the Lord when He comes. Later on in the gospel, we know that John’s unwavering conviction to live by the Truth led to his martyrdom in the hands of Herod Antipas [We should also take note that this account of his martyrdom though narrated with a different angle was also documented in the writings of the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus].
Most of all, John is a great leader because of his selfless service to others. Even though he was an influential person of his time to whom many listen and believe, he did not use his power over others to lead them toward his own gains or his own popularity. He remained a humble servant to the truth, a servant leader believing that one of the primary reasons for his existence is to lead people to God. After baptizing Jesus in the Jordan and seeing his widening influence and popularity among the people, John gradually stepped back, accepted his fate, continued with his mission and admitted that he must decrease while Jesus must increase in the hearts of people.
Today, in our secularized society, leaders forget about their primary duty for the ordering of society or the organization they lead. They forget the reason for their existence to rule and to lead comes from something greater than themselves. Some leaders have become corrupted with their power and think that they can do anything in their territory. Some could even dictate who lives and who dies among their constituents. Others use their power to speak slanderously and destroy the reputation of persons. Still others abuse their power to provide for their selfish interests like amassing wealth from bribes and other graft and corruption activities. Saint Pope John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris (On establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity, and liberty) reminds these wayward leaders with the words:
it must not be imagined that authority knows no bounds. Since its starting point is the permission to govern in accordance with right reason, there is no escaping the conclusion that it derives its binding force from the moral order, which in turn has God as its origin and end.
We really need to be reminded once in a while on the reasons for becoming leaders no matter how great or how small our influence could be.
In 2015, Gary E. Roberts published a book entitled Developing Christian Servant Leadership: Faith-based Character Growth at Work that mentions of a seven-component model of the elements of of Christian servant leader character. The qualities described in this model are not very far from what we have seen from John the Baptist. According to the model a good Christian servant leader has these foundational elements: (1) Having a good relationship with God through prayer and other spiritual activities; (2) Continuing to develop a knowledge not just of the mind but also of the heart; (3) Having a firm belief in God; (4) Always Anchoring on the right motives; (5) Using Godly means (6) Pursuing moral and God-honoring goals; and (7) Having wisdom.
Let me emphasize three things: right motives, Godly means and moral and God-honoring goals should always be in the mind and heart of a leader.
John the Baptist considers nothing of himself and his interest in his prophetic mission to lead people. He in turn selflessly worked and singular-mindedly strived for Israel’s reunification with God. He prepared the people of Israel to come face to face with the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Little did he know that he will lead people to live free from death and sin. He did not anticipate that the followers he pointed to Jesus will be brave heralds and witnesses of God to all the nations announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ and his message of salvation.
Now, I would like to invite you to a moment of silence and reflect for a while. Having read about John the Baptist and leadership, you are invited to look back and recall what kind of leader have you become toward your fellow persons. Where do you feel the Lord is leading you in your life as a leader, a teacher, a guide, or as an influential person? What are the steps the Lord is asking you to take so that you could become a leader like John the Baptist or Jesus Christ himself?
Let us allow the Spirit of God to move us and lead us to possibilities of renewal and hope. Let us allow Him to lead us to lead others back to His path.