October 20-21, 2012
These weeks leading up to the elections,
we’ve heard a lot of talk about leadership.
What makes a good leader?
In an issue last month, Slate magazine said that there are certain qualities to look for in a good leader – and especially in a good president.[i]
They came up with 4 main qualities:
- political skill
- management ability
It doesn’t sound like a bad list, to me.
Well that’s from Slate.
In today’s gospel we hear the marks of a good leader from Jesus’ perspective.
And his list is very short….servanthood, servanthood, servanthood.
The kind of servanthood that Jesus speaks of,
would make most of us say that we’ll pass.
The kind of servanthood that Jesus speaks of,
entails more suffering than glory,
more pain than power.
I don’t think that’s the kind of leadership
that either presidential candidate is looking for.
Jesus asks the question, “Can you drink the cup?”
And as we’ve heard him describe it, most of us would answer if we could, “We’d rather not.”
Every once in awhile, however,
someone comes along who is a truly great leader.
Every once in awhile we see someone who follows in the footsteps of Jesus,
and is willing to give not just their time or their money for the sake of leadership,
but their very lives.
Every once in awhile someone actually
chooses not to just hold or sip the cup,
but to drink the cup – and drink it down, completely.
The world has had an example of a young leader willing to do just that recently.
Malala Yousafzai, the 14 year old Pakistani girl
is one such leader who chose to drink the cup.
If you haven’t heard the news reports,
Malala, whose name means “grief stricken” lives in Swat Valley, an area of Pakistan controlled by the Taliban.
She was born in 1997 – can you imagine that? .
Only 14 years old,
And already she is described as a woman’s rights activist,.
Three years ago, she was asked by the BBC to write a blog under a pseudonym
about life under the Taliban.
She wrote of the injustice that girls were not allowed to go to school
under Taliban-controlled areas.
The next year the NY Times made a documentary which featured her life.
She began to give interviews publicly and she took a position on the District Child Assembly.
Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize
and she won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.[ii]
14 years old.
She was not naïve;
she knew her life was at risk;
death threats were sent under her door.
In one of her Facebook entries she writes of an encounter with the Taliban:
“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”[iii]
A spokesman of Swat Taliban said that when she would not stop speaking out,
the Taliban held a meeting a few months ago at which they unanimously agreed to kill her. [iv]
On October 9th this year – just a couple of weeks ago – Malala was shot in the head and neck
by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus.
She was taken to a hospital in the UK for treatment.
She has a severe head injury and it is not known what her recovery will be like,
but around the world, her story has become a story of light.
Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and people of no particular faith have demonstrated
around the world on her behalf.
Because Malala was a leader – the kind that Jesus spoke of.
She saw the injustice around her,
and rather than shy away from the risk,
she drank the cup –
she chose to risk her life for the sake of justice, for the sake of others.
I don’t think this is the kind of cup James and John
thought they were offering to drink.
Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem.
Jesus has just shared with them – for the third time – what will happen to him.
He seems to spell it out rather clearly.
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
Pretty stark stuff.
And yet, immediately after he shares with them that – immediately! —
James and John have this conversation with him about glory.
Were they that insensitive?
Did they really not understand what he said?
Or as some have said, were they like young soldiers who have never seen battle,
who envision the uniforms and the parades and the medals and the spectacle of war,
without giving much thought to the horror of war.[v]
James and John ask Jesus to sit at his right hand and at his left in glory.
“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus asks.
“Yes, we are able!” they respond rather too quickly.
And Jesus answers, “You will drink the cup.”
Once upon a time, there was another preacher who preached on this text.
The date was February 4, 1968 and the preacher was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The sermon – his last one ever – was called “The Drum Major Instinct.”
King noted that there is a desire in each of us to be the drum major –
the one out in front, leading the band;
There is a wish in each of us to be the one on the right or on the left of Jesus in glory.
Here’s what King said about it…
“… Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness.
If you want to be important—wonderful.
If you want to be recognized—wonderful.
If you want to be great—wonderful.
But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. …
That’s a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it . . .
by giving that definition of greatness,
it means that everybody can be great.
Because everybody can serve.
You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.
You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.
You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.
You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.
You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace.
A soul generated by love.
And you can be that servant…”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. drank the cup.
Malala Yousafzai drank the cup.
James and John drank the cup.
Are we able to drink the cup?