Leading is an agreement. It is an agreement to be led and an agreement to lead. Sometimes the bargain has to be struck, and sometimes not if the situation or the role carries the expectations.
A bargain was struck between Peter and Jesus (in John 13). ‘You will never wash my feet’ says Peter, scandalised by watching the servant leadership of Christ in action. ‘If I do not, you can have no part in me’, replies Jesus. ‘Then, Lord,’ says Peter, ‘not just my feet, but my head and hands also!’
‘If I, your Lord and Master, says Jesus, ‘can wash your feet, so must you also wash one another’s feet.
There is a Chinese proverb that makes explicit the staged methodology of this profound moment of leadership and teaching:
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.
To hear we are to love one another is easily shrugged off and forgotten. To see Jesus, or someone like Jesus, washing a group of people’s feet is more easily remembered. But to engage with water, towel and a dirty-footed person is to understand something profound about Jesus and his mission. It’s the difference between being moved by seeing Pope Frances hugging a terribly disfigured person and doing as he has done.
Stewardship implies leading from the place of one’s giftedness. It is about knowing the gifts that have been given to me, and then about how I give them to build up my community.
When Archbishop John went around the Archdiocese with the Understanding Church presentation, he included a remarkable quotation from the first encyclical of Benedict XVI: ‘God is Love’ (Deus Caritas est): ‘A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.’
It is about moving from being a passive recipient at Eucharist to actively living eucharistically – being like bread that is broken and shared for those who are hungry in my family, my community, my world. The amazing reality is by being broken and shared we become whole. And, of course, living eucharistically is not just the preserve of those of us who are Catholic or Christian. This year’s joint recipient of the Nobel peace prize, Malala Yousafzai, is inspiringly clear about her giftedness; and she is utterly given and focussed in her determination to bring peace – even hoping to use the awards’ ceremony to bring the two Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan together.
If stewardship is about leading from our gifts, one of the most significant gifts we have ever received is Eucharist. While our piety has taught us to attend inwards after we have received communion, the rite of dismissal shortly afterwards impels us to face outwards. If, facing outwards, we found ourselves competing with each other to lead in mercy, love and forgiveness, we’d become authentic leaders and prophets for our time.
Mike Noonan is Director of Pastoral Services Archdiocese of Wellington.