Scripture for the week: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
The people of Israel, in the time of the prophet Samuel, decided that they wanted a king, like other nations. God warned them, through Samuel, of the risks and probable consequences: subjugation of their sons and daughters, appropriation of people and resources for war and personal benefit; corruption; diversion of prosperity from the people to the leaders – a list that sounds like a modern-day corruption scandal in the making!
God pointed out to Samuel, who was justifiably irritated by rejection, not to be regarded as old and irrelevant, that the people were in effect abandoning God as their king, mainly because God as direct ruler seems a little too close. When things are difficult, we want God to be near; when they go well, we would rather that God was a little more remote, not watching our little and not-so-little sins and offences.
This is why sometimes people have difficulty hearing Jesus and his teaching and putting it into action: he brings God very close into human life – too close, for some. A saying coined for the role of newspapers in 1902 has become attached to the church and its clergy: its role being to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. It is actually not far from the heart of Christian faith and teaching.
Jesus is a difficult role model, giving away all that he had: security, family, himself, even his life. His teachings are very much about life in the world in which we live now. Jesus was concerned with the treatment of the needy, the dispossessed, the outcasts and the downtrodden.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to have leaders to take care of us and to give us direction – Moses, for example, in the Exodus story, was encouraged to appoint leaders to whom he could delegate authority. But if we impose expectations of Jesus’ level of self-sacrifice upon our own leaders, we are bound to be disappointed, because they cannot match such expectations, although we should expect servant leadership along the lines of that of Jesus.
Jesus was mocked by the leaders of his day as being “out of his mind” – which might be true if he was in God’s mind. He is the only leader guaranteed not to be self-serving, flawed, corrupted by power, or imperfect, even though he is the one who ended up on the cross, discredited and disowned, having given away everything that he had to give.
His fate may in fact give us a clue as to what is wrong with many human models of leadership and power, which is something that the prophet Samuel warned about many centuries before.