Fr John O’Callaghan OSB
Today’s readings are about recognising good leaders. How does one identify a good leader? How does one find a good guide, an inspired guide, so as to make your life a success? The world is full of people, most obviously on the international stage, who want to be our leaders. Some of them could be disasters and to vote them into power might be the last exercise of your freedom. There might be people in your own vicinity who want to be local leaders, but are they the right ones, for your team, your class, your organisation? Today’s readings gives us a lesson in the biblical idea of recognising the right leader.
The first reading gives us an example with the boy Samuel. He himself was an answer to prayer (as his name in Hebrew indicates). In gratitude his mother dedicated him back to God to serve in the Temple at Shiloh. It was there, in the presence of the Lord, as we read, that he “grew up, [and] the Lord was with him”. We are told that he was entirely at the disposal of divine inspiration: ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’. And we are told a little further on that ‘the word of Samuel, was as the word of the Lord’ for all Israel. Much good come from this listening: for example Samuel was able to identify David as the future king of Israel, choosing him out of a confusing array of brothers. And it was from David’s line that the messiah was to come. The role of Samuel the prophet was to listen and communicate the will of God. Prophets in the Old Testament did not predict far off future events; no, they were voices who understood their present time from God’s point of view and therefore they could show the right way forward.
Thanks to another prophet, namely John the Baptist, Christ is pointed out in today’s gospel as the leader to follow. We are told that, like Samuel, John had been born in answer to prayer; that he “grew and became strong in spirit” that “among those born of women there was none greater than him”. He testified to the Jesus as Rabbi, teacher of the Jewish scriptures; as the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilling the religious traditions of Israel; and the ‘Lamb of God’, in other words the one who would reconcile all humanity with God by his death and resurrection. The Baptist, at the cost of his own life, testified to Christ as the greatest leader, the greatest guide of all time. And Christ would also fulfil the role of king, but of an everlasting kingdom. Today’s gospel reiterates the Baptist’s inspired testimony for us.
And what does our leader have to say to us? ‘Seek first of all the kingdom of God, then the rest will also be given you!” Such is the way to a successful and fruitful life! Christ is saying that there is an ordering of priorities in a successful life. If we exclude this first priority, seeking the good kingdom of God, then no matter how ambitious we are, no matter how many useful things we may do, somehow it will disintegrate in our hands. The technical achievements or our times are an obvious example. They make many things easier and better and so often are marvellous but they also bring us into new and dangerous territory, even to the possibility of annihilating ourselves. We could loose our way in trackless wastes if we abandon the direction and values of the kingdom of God. We are to use our talents for the good of God’s project with humanity. And each person has his or her special place on the team. With the help of lesser prophets, sometimes our friends, parents and the church, God guides us. Someone will say the right word to us, at the right time and in the right way, and that will lead us on to make our special, unique, irreplaceable, contribution to the building up of God’s everlasting kingdom.
Today’s gospel identifies for us our leader and he makes his voice heard even today. Like the young Samuel and the first disciples let us seek to hear and follow it.