The readings for today’s liturgy focus on leadership following the example of Jesus. The first reading from the conclusion to the letter to the Hebrews reminds Christians to follow their leaders because they keep watch over us. The verb episkope in Greek is used here – translated into English as “overseeing” or “keeping watch over” the needs of the community. It is from this term that we get the word “episcopal,” which Catholics and other Christian traditions use when referring to the ministry of our bishops.
However, the author reminds us that those who exercise the ministry of episkope in the church are accountable to the one true leader and shepherd, who is Christ. Anyone who would exercise leadership in the church – whether a volunteer, a lay ecclesial minister, an ordained deacon, priest, bishop or pope – must be held to the model and example laid out by Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
We see that example expressed in the Gospel today. Even though Jesus and his disciples, try to get away to find a bit of peace and quiet for reflection and rejuvenation, the crowd finds out about it and beats them to their destination! Think of the hopes, needs, and desires of those people who seem so hungry for the teaching and comfort of Jesus!
Jesus himself feels compassion for them in their need and, stepping aside from his plans for rest – tends to their needs. And there is a deep desire and prayer in the church that those in leadership of any kind follow this loving, compassionate example of Jesus – as all of us should.
Leadership – whether it is in the church or in society – is not about self-protection, self-aggrandizement, or self-enrichment. Rather it is about being of service, a duty of care, and sharing freely the gifts we have been given. It is about listening to needs and responding through the power of the Gospel. It is about “power for” and not “power above or over.”
It is also about accountability and responsibility. Unlike Jesus, who was perfect, any who are leaders in the church must be willing to give an account, like the first reading says, of the good works they have done, and of failures to live up to the demands of the Gospel. Those of us in the Church must be examples of this type of leadership as well.
Let us pray for the strength to do this – as persons, as a society, and as a church. When we follow the example of the Good Shepherd we will be able, as the psalmist says, to walk through difficult valleys, even in the midst of evil, without fear, for God is with us to give us strength to love and courage to lead, following the example of Jesus.
God give you peace!