A few days before he was crucified Jesus was approached by two of his disciples, James and John, who asked if they could sit at his left hand and right hand when he came to his kingdom.
We are not told what they were expecting when they asked this, but from our general historical knowledge of the period and from hints in other parts in the New Testament, it seems that they expected Jesus to lead a rebellion against Roman rule and restore the kingdom to Israel, that he would rule Israel as a messianic king, and so they were asking for high posts in his government.
Jesus takes the opportunity of teaching his disciples about a new concept of leadership. The rulers of the nations, he said, lord it over them, and their great men exercise authoritiy over them, but among his followers the one who wants to be a prince, the first, should be the servant of all.
He also told James and John that they did not know what they were asking, and asked if they thoguht they could be baptised with the baptism he w3as to be baptised with. They said they could, but in fact could only understand this much later. Jesus said that the places at his left and right when he came to his kingdom had already been reserved, and within a week his disciples could see that, and for most of them the sight was too much and they ran away, for they could see that the places had been reserved for two criminals who had been crucified with him.
In all this, Jesus was showing that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingship is from elsewhere. Its values are different. The rulers of the nations lord it over their subjects, and their great men exercise authority over them, but Jesus represents a different kind of kingdom, and a different kind of leadership.
He tries to teach his disciples this, but they are slow to learn. He tells them, as they travel from Galilee to Judaea for the last time, that anyone who wants to follow him must take up his cross. For us the impact of that has been weakend, but in the contemporary Roman empire people took up crosses for only one purpose — to die on them. It was a method of execution reserved by the Romans for those who challenged their power, for rebels.
And Jesus shows that his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world in various ways. He enters Jerusallem on an ass, not a warhorse. He comes to his kingdom not as a conqueror, but as a peasant. Such had indeed been prophecied in the Old Testament, and some inhabitants recognised the symbolism, and greeted him with palms, but many were disappointed in their hopes, and within a week were shouting “Crucify him” before Pilate.
Jesus was a Messiah, an anointed king. But he was anointed, not on his head, by the high priest, in the temple, but rather on his feet, by a sinful woman, in a house. And finally, his throne is not in a palace, in the centre of the city, but outside the city walls, on the gibbet of the cross, and those on his left and right were two criminals executed with him.
The cross was an insturment of death, but God used it to bring life to the world. The world pushed Jesus our of the world and on to the cross, and to get rid of him as a troublemaker, one who rocked the boat and upset its values. But God made the instument of death into the instrument of life, and ever since Christians have acknowledged that they belong to a kingdom not of this world by the sign of the life-giving cross.
In all this Jesus turns earthly ideas of kingship and leadership upside down.
We like to claim all sorts of things for ourselves, but the only thing that is truly ours is a grave, the cross. Jesus claimed nothing: he was born in a borrowed stable and buried in a borrowed grave. He has nothing, and yet he has everything.
In the 2000-odd years that have elapsed since his birth in the borrowed stable, in a cave, a hole in the earth, his followers have often betrayed him. We have found it too easy to become like the rulers of the nations. Christian leaders are sometimes seen with the fanciest cars, living in luxury, and enjoying all the perks enjoyed by the leaders of this world, the politicians and business leaders who ensure that they are well-paid while ordinary people starve.
But Jesus said, “it is not to be so among you.”
This post is part of a synchroblog on leadership.
Here are other posts on the topic:
- Jonathan Brink – Letter To The President
- Adam Gonnerman – Aspiring to the Episcopate
- Kai – Leadership – Is Servant Leadership a Broken Model?
- Sally Coleman – In the world but not of it- servant leadership for the 21st Century Church
- Alan Knox – Submission is given not taken
- Joe Miller – Elders Lead a Healthy Family: The Future
- Cobus van Wyngaard – Empowering leadership
- Steve Hayes – Servant leadership
- Geoff Matheson – Leadership
- John Smulo – Australian Leadership Lessons
- Helen Mildenhall – Leadership
- Tyler Savage – Moral Leadership – Is it what we need?
- Bryan Riley – Leading is to Listen and Obey
- Susan Barnes – Give someone else a turn!
- Liz Dyer – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Polls…
- Lionel Woods – Why Diverse Leadership is Good for America
- Julie Clawson – Leadership Expectations
- Ellen Haroutunian – A New Kind Of Leadership
- Matt Stone – Converting Leadership
- Steve Bradley – Lording or Leading?
- Adam Myers – Two types of Leadership
- Bethany Stedman – A Leadership Mosaic
- Kathy Escobar – I’m Pretty Sure This Book Won’t Make It On The Bestseller List
- Fuzzy Orthodoxy – Self Leadership
- Sonja Andrews – Leadership In An Age of Cholera
- Tara Hull – Leadership & Being A Single Mom
- Glen Hager – Election Day Ponderings On Leadership