In his version of Matthew 20:24-28, Eugene Peterson's "The Message" talks about leading by humility in an interesting way. He speaks of leadership in terms of humility, serving and (by living in this attitude) freeing those who are hostages. Here's what he writes ... "When the ten others heard about this, they lost their tempers, thoroughly disgusted with the two brothers. So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage (Matthew 20:24-28, The Message)." There are many curious facets to this passage ... let's explore.
The first point of this passage is to describe leadership differently that the world describes leadership. I am guilty of using my earthly leadership mentors such as John Maxwell, Peter Drucker and Peter Senge. All of these men are learned, wise and well-founded in their leadership styles. All talk of humility in a positive sense. But Matthew talks of a kind of humility we don't often see. Matthew writes that Jesus, our model of leadership, came to 1) serve, 2) exchange His life for many, 3) free those who are hostages.
We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, caught up in the politics of the upcoming election. I won't dwell here because I try to offer Church as a refuge from this somewhat seamy business. I suppose what we see unfolding has a place, but I wonder about how easily I see us throw Jesus' words out the window to express the virtues of our political persuasion. I hear people say our leaders should be decisive, reactive, powerful, willing to be quick to use authority. You have probably heard these things. Then, Jesus describes leaders as servants, giving away life for others and focused on freeing hostages. There seems to be a disconnect between Jesus' views and our views. Which of us do you think needs to adjust their view here?
So, the passage. The first point is that Christians ... followers of Jesus ... serve. It is not optional behavior. The entire idea of leading people to Christ is the idea of leading/influencing them to follow this person called Jesus. Jesus says that to do this kind of leading, we serve. It is a humble calling. Yet, we seem to seek leaders who are aggressive and reactive. Jesus specifically (various versions use different wording) says worldly leaders "throw their weight around," "Lord over others," and are decisively reactive. Maybe we should read and follow Scripture here and seek servant leaders in churches, localities, states and nations. Remember that Jesus is saying, follow me and serve.
The second point of leadership in Matthew 20 is the idea that leadership is sacrificial. C. S. Lewis expressed this well when he talked about humility. He said, "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself ... it's thinking of yourself less." To be and lead in a sacrificial way, one must value others. We are in a national argument about whose lives matter. In Matthew 20, Jesus puts this argument to bed. All people created by God matter, and if we believe (truly) that God created the heavens, earth and people, we must believe in all of those lives. In the song, "So Will I" the writer says, "I can see Your heart 8 billion different ways, every precious one a child You died to save." 8 billion people on the planet. "Red and yellow, black and white ... all are precious in His sight!" Mothers, fathers, unborn babies, police, protesters, preachers, prostitutes, politicians, voters ... do you get the point here? Jesus gave His life for all of these folks. The writer of the song says ... "If you gave Your life to love them, so will I."
And, the last point, hostages. That's what Peterson calls people who are in this world, but are being held by the terrorism of death, fear and self. Jesus gave His life for these people ... so will I. And I will do this in the unpopularity of viewing all of those people (above) as being God's possession. I can't remember who told me this, but I believe it was a great lesson in viewing people and considering leadership ... "You can demonize behavior, but be very careful not to demonize people ... for when we demonize people, we run the risk of demonizing the part of that person God might be using for His purposes." Maybe, we should lead by serving ... sacrificing time and life to save others ... becoming agents of releasing those who are hostage to fear, death and self.
I hope this blog helps you in preparing for what will be a contentious season. Maybe you will choose to see people differently. Maybe you will think about how God is grieved when we decide whose life matters and whose does not. Maybe it will let you join with the task of serving, sacrificing and releasing the hostages. Maybe you will see God's "heart 8 billion different ways ... every precious one a child You died to save. If you gave Your life to love them, so will I."