‘If any want to become my followers … ‘ (Mark 8:34)
Those who aggrandize themselves at the expense of others generally meet with a common end. Jean-Claude Duvalier, who at 19 inherited the Haitian presidency-for-life from his ruthless father, Francois, is said now to be living in poverty somewhere in France. Uganda’s Idi Amin, who long maintained his rule through political repression, ethnic expulsions, and even murder, ended his days in obscurity in Saudi Arabia. And if this pattern holds true in the future, following the overthrow or death of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabweans will go to great lengths to expunge both him and his policies from their nation’s memory.
Those who do good anonymously on the basis of their love for God, on the other hand, can exert unwitting influence that abides for centuries. Giovanni Bernardone, who in 1205 took the gospel at face value, selling what he had and giving the proceeds to the poor, still challenges Christians today as St Francis of Assisi. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who in 1941 freely gave his life so that another prisoner at Auschwitz might live, calls on others today to be ready for martyrdom. And if this pattern holds, the selfless witness of a Macedonian nun named Teresa will speak to Christians for many centuries to come.
Jesus was clearly aware of the difference between power for power’s sake and the influence that often ‘ comes through quiet obedience to God. In today’s gospel, we’re told, “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’ “(Mark 8:34-35).
In the church, rectors and bishops can hold onto their jobs with a death grip long after their ministries are clearly over. Secular CEOs can try to cling to their lofty positions despite the obvious failure of their leadership. And all of us tend to cling to our dominance over others regardless of the toll it takes on them or us.
How do we know if our exercise of power is merely feeding our own egos? If it breaks down relationships and harms other people, we’ve got some clues. And how can we know if our actions involve truly following Jesus? Perhaps when they’re done out of love, and we have nothing to gain personally through doing them.
Look It Up
What recent news stories have shown power being exercised for its own sake? What stories have recounted acts of selflessness?
Think About It
Which of today’s Christian leaders might continue to influence the Church long after their deaths? Why?