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Wednesday, Second Week of Lent

March 7, 2007

Blessed Sts. Perpetua & Felicity Day! (look for their story in the “Saints of Lent” category)

Readings:
Jeremiah 18:18-20 (Jeremiah has prayed for his persecutors)
Psalm 31:5-6, 14-16 “Save me, O Lord, in Your steadfast love”
+Matthew 20:17-28 (the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve)

In the Kingdom of Heaven, to lead is to be unjustly persecuted, to
suffer, and to lay down your life for the benefit of those you lead, for
the same people who are persecuting you. The highest place is the place
of greatest sacrifice.

We see this first today in Jeremiah’s life. Jeremiah courageously
followed God’s orders to lead the kingdom of Judah out of sin. He stood
before God, pleading on their behalf for mercy. But his people didn’t
follow his lead. They conspired against him, watching his every word
for an excuse to attack him, plotting his death, surrounding him with
terror on every side.

The same thing happened to Jesus, the ultimate Leader in the Kingdom of
God. In fact, the reading from Jeremiah applies word for word to what
happened to the Messiah (i.e., Jeremiah was another “type”, or
foreshadowing of Christ). There was a price on His head (John 7:32,
11:53-57), His enemies tried repeatedly to lead Him into moral traps
(Luke 6:7-11, Mark 12:13-17, John 8:1-11, etc.), and death stalked his
steps (Matthew 12:14, 26:4, John 5:18, John 7:1, John 10:31, etc.), long
before He was actually captured and murdered. And everything Jesus did
was in service of the very people who killed Him.

You wouldn’t think that such a position of vulnerability and sacrifice
would be very popular. If that’s what it means to be a spiritual
leader, count me out! But we’re so used to our own ideas of leadership,
to visions of grandeur, of being in control and of having others serve
us that we reach for this position of leadership anyway, not knowing
what we’re really asking for. That’s exactly what Jesus told James &
John when their mother asked for special positions of leadership for
them in Jesus’ Kingdom. “You do not know what you are asking. Can you
drink of the cup I am to drink of?” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus had just
described for them in some detail the ordeal He was about to suffer, the
cup He was to drink (John 20:17-19). James and John, apparently still
somewhat starry-eyed, assured Him that they could drink the same
cup…and ultimately, they did. In Acts 12;2, we read that Herod killed
James with the sword, and in Revelation 1:9 that John was banished to
the Patmos, a tiny, dry, volcanic island just off the coast of Greece.
In addition, Church history tells us that John was thrown into a
cauldron of boiling oil as a martyr, but emerged unscathed.

The rest of the Twelve evidently didn’t quite “get it” either. Instead
of being relieved that James & John were willing to “take the heat”, to
sacrifice themselves for the rest, to suffer and serve as leaders, they
became indignant. Who do these two think they are, to claim the best
for themselves?!

Jesus could’ve gotten fed up with them at this point. He could’ve
slapped His forehead with one hand & pointed away with the other.
“Go, you boneheads. Just get out of here! You’re completely
unqualified.”

He didn’t. He called them to Himself! He gathered them close. His
disciples had asked to be close to Him, to be at His right hand and at
His left in His Kingdom. He calls them to come close in the present, to
stop thinking of themselves and their own glory and to turn their eyes
and their hearts upon Him. It’s only when we’re close to Jesus, when
we’re focusing on Him, that we can see clearly, that we can learn from
Him. And while Salome was overambitious in asking for power for
her sons, she had this right. A mother can wish no greater good for
her children than that they be close to Jesus.

The more we draw close to Jesus, the more we learn to serve and to
suffer with and for Him, the more we will be equipped for the position
of leadership that God has for us. Leadership is a by-product, however
unintended on our part, of holiness. If we are close to Him, the very
example of His holiness shining through us will lead others (especially
as we obey Jesus’ command to not hide our light under a bushel, see
Matthew 5:14-16), and persecution will result, whether we planned it or
not. If we’re looking for leadership, we’re not qualified for it
because we don’t know what it really is. If we seek the Crucified
(Jesus), leadership will follow, and He will fill us with the courage
and strength we need to pay the painful price. When we stay close
to Him and to His example, His leadership will flow through us–
in sacrificial love under fire.

May we draw ever nearer to our Servant-King, that His light may shine
through us as a beacon of hope to our sin-darkened world.

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