Chosen if we so choose – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Isaiah prophesies on behalf of the prophesied servant, the one who raises up God’s people and is light to not only them, but to all of the world. God’s purpose is that this servant will show God’s glory, so that even pagans in distant land might come to know salvation.

But there’s more to the story.

I don’t know why the fathers chose to only use the third, fifth, and sixth verses of Isaiah 49. I suppose it is to cater to our impatience, but there’s an important lesson between the lines.

Verse 4: Though I thought I had toiled in vain, for nothing and for naught spent my strength, yet my right is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.

Paul speaks to those of us sanctified in Christ, and called to be holy. We, too, are known before our birth by the one who sees all of time, past, present, and future, as we see a painting or a tapestry. We, too, are called for a purpose.

To be holy, yes.

To be set apart for service to God for others and to others for God, yes.

But also for a unique role, for a unique service, because there is no other person who ever has lived or ever will live our life.

And we, too, sometimes feel that we’ve toiled in vain, for nothing. That we’ve spent our strength and have nothing to show for it. That we are abandoned.

Perhaps we are misunderstood, maligned, or unappreciated.

Or our business crumbles.

Or we work just to pay our debts.

Or our children break our hearts.

Or our spouse betrays us.

Or we hurt ourselves and those we love with our many failings.

But the Lord is faithful, and he has chosen us.

He wants to answer, to help, and to, through us, restore the land and the heritages by the sins of fathers (and mothers… but largely fathers). He wants to say to prisoners come out, and to those who hide, show yourselves.

He wants to put a new song into our mouths.

God wants to pour grace upon us, and peace that only he can give.

Am I willing?

Will I, like Jesus, allow the Holy Spirit to remain upon me?

Will I open my ears to hear him, and obey?

Will I learn to make his will my delight, and allow him to write his law of love upon my heart?

Will I announce his good work in my life before the vast assembly?

Will I come to do his will?

“The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. To those who accepted him, he gave power to become children of God.”

It is not in vain that we labor. There is power to fill up what is lacking in our strength, and more. He has chosen us, and wants to pour that grace and strength upon us.

If we choose to allow him.

Leadership Lessons in the Luminous Mysteries – Institution of the Eucharist

If you missed the introduction and first mystery, you can find that article here

The second mystery is here

The third mystery is here

The fourth mystery is here

Institution of the Eucharist

The story, for those unfamiliar: The Jews celebrated a feast called Passover to remember the time that they were “passed over” and spared from the death that visited their Egyptian captors. As a result of this event, their ancestors were freed from slavery, then wandered about the wilderness for 40 years before settling down and experiencing their glory days of self-rule and prosperity. Jesus gets his disciples together to celebrate it a bit early in the year that he dies. They borrow a room, and he welcomes them to the feast by taking the role of the lowest servant to wash their feet (also a part of ordination ceremonies). His lead disciple, Peter, tries to decline the washing, is reprimanded, “gets it”, and concedes gracefully, even suggesting his head and hands should be washed also. They celebrate the feast together, and Jesus announces that he’s changed the feast for them, and that they should celebrate it from now on remembering him. He declares that the bread and wine they consume are his body and his blood. Jesus instructs them to love one another as he’s loved them. He prays for unity among his followers, then is lead away captive to suffer and die.

See a need, and meet it

Above all, this mystery offers another example of how a leader looks for needs, and meets them.

Foot washing was a routine part of hospitality, but since Jesus and his closest companions are borrowing a room, and there are apparently no servants at hand, this traditional (and practical – people reclined horizontally to eat, so feet were near your neighbor’s upper body) practice is overlooked. Seeing the need, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to fill it, even though it is beneath his dignity.

A leader looks for practical needs, and fills them.

Jesus knows his imminent death will present incredible challenges to these 11 men who would assume leadership, and carry on his legacy. He offers a fresh perspective and meaning to a familiar ritual feast as a source of strength for the future. Knowing they will not have access to him in the same way as before his departure, he empowers them to meet this need, encouraging them to continue this ritual after his departure.

Jesus not only sees his disciples’ immediate need, and meets it, but also foresees and makes provision for their future need.

A leader looks for both immediate and future needs, and strives to meet them. The leader provides a fish for the moment, and teaches their team (and successors) how to fish for the future. No need is too mundane (foot washing) or too sublime (mystical ritual of presence) – the leader is willing to fulfill both.

Plan for succession

Although foot washing was a social ritual, it was also a religious ritual. The process of ordination to the Levitical priesthood included washing all over once (and hands and feet repeatedly thereafter), anointing with oil on the head, and with blood on the head (ear), hand (thumb), and foot (big toe). This same pattern of head/hand/foot anointing was applied to cleansing rituals, such as that for a leper. (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8; Numbers 8; etc.) Peter gets it, recognizing that this is not only (although it is that) a social ritual and example of humility, but a sacred ritual of cleansing and of being set apart for service to God on behalf of others, and others on behalf of God.

Like Jesus, a leader needs to both explicitly (Jesus instructs his disciples to follow his example in the ritual meal and washing), and implicitly (the reference to the ordination ritual that only Peter seems to get), plan for succession. The leader needs to set an example that can be followed, but can’t simply assume that successors will “get it” – expectations need to be clearly and explicitly communicated. Furthermore, Jesus shows how an outgoing leader presents themselves as a servant to their successor(s). Even in this case, where the outgoing leader will assume a significantly greater role and responsibility, the leader is the servant of their successor in matters proper to the successor’s role.

Show sincere affection

In addition to a spirit of humility, Jesus shows sincere affection for his followers. He mentions that he has been “eager” to celebrate this feast with them, and discusses that they should love one another to the same superlative degree that he has loved them. He is not manipulating them with cheap compliments, but sincerely affectionate and loving towards them. His love is not shallow and self-serving, but deep and sacrificial.

As leaders, this is challenging. How do we hold and express this deep and sacrificial love for our teams? How do we do so without seeming creepy? 🙂

Jesus doesn’t seem to worry about that…

This is my flesh… this is my blood… that definitely borders on creepy.

Jesus isn’t worried about this because he slowly built up a relationship with these people. He called them from their previous work and relationships, and, over a period of approximately three years, taught them to trust him by demonstrating his character and deep concern. By the time of the institution of the Eucharist, they’re ready, and it isn’t creepy at all.

I can’t just jump into this. It takes time and consistency for this love to develop in my own heart, and to build the trust that makes an authentic expression of that love appropriate and acceptable, even in a professional environment.

summa summarum

Jesus established a social network that’s endured for nearly two thousand years, and his life and teachings are seemingly inexhaustible. All in all, I know I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the lessons Jesus presents as I strive to grow as a leader. I’ve omitted so many important topics (e.g. how he values and encourages unity), and done poor service to even those I’ve attempted to consider.

I’ve wandered some from my original attempt to present these lessons in a matter more palatable to an irreligious, agnostic, or atheistic audience, and for that I beg your pardon.

In any case, all in all, I hope you’ve found some tidbits of value in these articles, and are inspired to consider Jesus’s lessons on leadership for yourself.

The Light of the World – Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12

The world around us is dark.

Police officers are being killed at a higher rate than ever.

More people are killed by police than ever before.

Non-whites are killed by police more than whites.

More celebrities died in 2016 than ever.

More than half of all marriages end in divorce, and the number is increasing every year.

Christians were martyred at a higher rate than ever.

The Pope said Jesus is a failure.

Actually, none of those things are true.

But, but but… I saw it on the internet. I heard about it on TV.

LEOKA – 2016 is up from 2015, but 1/3 of the rate in the 70’s – See LEOKA data analyzed by BBC, Dan Wang, LawStreetMedia


Washington Post – Racial Distribution
2016: Total = 963, White = 465 (48%), Non-White = 435 (45%)
2015: Total = 991, White = 495 (50%), Non-White = 468  (47%)


Celebrity Deaths


NY Times on divorce rate myth


Christian deaths lower than last year.


Jimmy Aiken gives details on what the Pope said about Jesus as a failure.

None of them.

“Darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples,” you see.

Yes, there is darkness, and we have a spiritual enemy who wants to blind us to the light, and spend our hours surfing through and obsessing upon the darkness. He wants to magnify darkness, and fill our eyes with smoke, so that we forget there is a light.

Yes, the world is dark, but we have a light, and that light is the light of truth. If we, like the magi, wisely choose to follow the light of truth, it will lead us to and back to Christ and the church where he dwells. He is the light of the world, and his light is meant to stream out of us, his body, the church, into the whole world. We are meant to shine that light into the darkness so that our neighbors, and the nations, and kings, can walk a straight path by the light of Christ shining from us.

But we’re spotlights, not floodlights.

If we’re focused downward into the ground, and convinced that the world around us is impenetrably dark, then it will be.

If we, instead, shine that light into the darkness, the darkness will flee, because darkness can never overcome light.

I want to follow the light, focus upon the light, and flash my own little flickering light as I make my way through this present darkness.

Leadership Lessons in the Luminous Mysteries – The Transfiguration

If you missed the introduction and first mystery, you can find that article here

The second mystery is here

The third mystery is here

The Transfiguration

The story, for those unfamiliar: Jesus takes three of his disciples up on a mountain. They are supposed to be praying, but everyone falls asleep except Jesus. When they wake up, they see Jesus transfigured to be gloriously shining and white. He’s chatting with Moses (the law-giver) and Elijah (the prophet). The disciples propose setting up a place of worship. They hear a voice from heaven identifying Jesus as the son in whom the voice is well pleased. Jesus tells them to keep it to themselves for now.

Take time to recharge

Jesus spent a surprising amount of time away from the crowds, when you consider the urgency and importance of his mission. He frequently went to a desert place or mountaintop, where he’d spend the night in prayer while his disciples slept. He went apart to a desert place more often than President Obama took vacation or played golf. Not only does Jesus take time apart himself, but he often encourages his followers to come away from the comings and goings of daily life. He frequently offers rest to those who will come to him.

Our modern culture frowns upon rest despite the fact that science knows rest is beneficial for cognitive, physical, and emotional health and performance. Jesus sets an example of frequent rest, and encourages the same in his followers.

Rest” wasn’t just chilling in front of a screen for Jesus. It was spending time on intellectual (Moses – the lawgiver/teacher) and spiritual (Elijah – the prophet) pursuits, and in prayer and the presence of God.

Most of the times, I am busy even when I rest, exchanging one busyness for another. I often find myself returning from holiday more tired than rested. Where do I find rest? Am I willing to give up being busy to experience rest?

Expose people to higher ideas, but don’t drag them

Jesus took a subset of his followers up on the mountain to experience his transfiguration. He offered them the opportunity to experience something higher and greater than anything they’d encountered previously. He didn’t drag along the entire crew, and he didn’t browbeat those who came, but fell asleep. He simply presented the opportunity to experience the transcendent.

As leaders, we more often have the opportunity to think about the big picture, to find and savor the meaning in what we do. Some of those we lead are capable and interested in those things. Some are capable or interested, but not both. Some are neither.

I want to neither withhold these opportunities from my team, nor force them upon those uninterested or incapable of appreciating them. The fact that someone “doesn’t get it” doesn’t mean they aren’t good at their job, it just means their focus is different.

How can I help my team see and appreciate the broader context and value of what we do? How can I present opportunities without setting unfair expectations? What’s in it for them, if they invest enough of themselves to care about the big picture?

Kept in the heart – Solemnity of the Mother of God

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

Catholics often repeat Gabriel’s message to the virgin at the beginning of this season: Hail Mary, full of grace…

Is that what I’m full of: grace?

Adam and Eve managed to sin without the effects of original sin to deprive them of grace, so I think I am safe to reason that Mary, although likewise free from original sin by virtue of her immaculate conception, was free to consciously choose to allow that grace to remain within her. I think that part of that choice was in choosing what to keep in her heart and reflect upon.

I suppose Mary could have kept all sorts of other things in her heart upon which to reflect. It is not difficult to imagine that there might have been some raised eyebrows at her claim to have conceived by the Holy Spirit; she could have reflected upon that.

And the difficult journey to Bethlehem.

And the fate of this child of hers who is God.

And what it meant that a sword would pierce her heart also.

And the occupying Romans. And the violent rebels.

And the burden of being entrusted with the most important child ever born upon the earth.

And the awesomeness of being, herself, something unique in the universe.

And, and, and…

What do have I kept in my heart? What do I reflect upon in the place where only God and I can see?

Do I hide unwholesome things there?

Do I harbour fear, or shame, or jealousy?

Do I allow worry to dwell in my heart?

Am I filled with pride, or with self-loathing?

Do I reflect upon the headaches of the Christmas season?

Do I get the pre-work grumpies as I think about returning from vacation?

Or do I reflect upon grace and goodness? Do I celebrate that God is with us? Do I, like the shepherds, go back out into the world glorifying and praising God because I have seen the Christ-child born?

It is no accident that the church gives us this opportunity at the start of each new year to consider what Mary reflected upon. It is a chance for us to consider what we hold in our own hearts and reflect upon. If, like Mary, we keep these good things in our hearts, and like the shepherds, we go out in to the new year glorifying and praising God, then it will indeed be a very happy and spiritually prosperous new year for us, and for those whom we encounter.