Who are the Genuine Leaders Among Us?

by Susanna Mak
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time



MARK 6:30-34

I can’t help but feel disappointed, and perhaps disillusioned, when I look at the leaders of some of the most powerful nations on earth. Many lead with might rather than compassion and equity; placing bottom line, or even self-interests, rather than human dignity at the heart of their policies. These policies often condemn the most vulnerable among society (the homeless, unemployed or underemployed, single parents, Indigenous peoples, persons of colour, women, children, elderlies, those struggling with addictions and mental health issues, migrants, refugees, etc.) to undue hardships and hopelessness. Such leaders build walls rather than bridges; provoke war and hatred rather than peace and reconciliation. Are there any genuine leaders among us?

This Sunday’s readings shine a spotlight on our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, particularly, how he leads and why he leads the way he does. In the first reading, Jeremiah reminds us that our Good Shepherd is sent to restore “justice and righteousness” so that “Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety” (Jer 23:5,6). The Church, according to the Catechism, is the “new Israel” (ref. CCC 877). Therefore, Christ comes so that we may be saved. Indeed, Christ is our genuine shepherd who gathers rather than scatters; reigns with “compassion” (Mk 6:34), “justice and righteousness” (Jer 23:5); breaks down “the dividing wall” (Eph 2:14); brings peace and reconciliation (ref. Eph 2:15,16).

In the first reading, God condemns “the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep” (Jer 23:1). Good leaders, on the contrary, facilitate unity by gathering the nation into one fold so that the flock “shall not fear any longer” and “shall be fruitful and multiply” (Jer 23:3, 4). Christ is the “righteous branch” from David who rules justly and wisely, and “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5). He also “leads [us] in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though [we] walk through the darkest valley, [we] fear no evil” (Ps 23:3-4). It is, indeed, God’s loving intention that everyone, not just the rich, the famed, and the powerful, should be able to live peacefully, freely, and abundantly under the leadership of the Good Shepherd. As Christ is our leader, each of us is also called to lead the way He leads, that is, lovingly, wisely and justly.

In Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes Christ as “our peace”, whose mission is to break down the “dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph 2:14). Peace seems like a good benchmark by which we assess our decisions and actions. How often have we seen political decisions that divide and even provoke hostility among citizens and nations? For instance, the Americans are experiencing deep rifts and divisions due to the policies of the current administration. Building a wall or placing parents and children in separate detention centres may appear to be effective short-term measures; however, these measures are short-sighted in scope, divisive in nature, and most importantly, lack empathy and compassion. Further, on a personal level, do our decisions and actions reconcile or divide; bring peace or hostility? What would our Good Shepherd do?

Further, Jesus is portrayed as attentive, caring, and compassionate in Mark’s Gospel. Like an attentive and caring parent or friend, Jesus, notices how exhausted his Apostles are after their mission, gently invites them to “come away to a deserted place … and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). Indeed, the Good Shepherd leads those who labour for His sake to “lie down in green pastures … beside still waters” and restore their souls. (Ps 23:2-3). A good leader recognizes that there’s a time to labour and there’s a time to rest. On the contrary, many secular leaders often push their citizens to the ultimate limit, disregarding the dire consequences resulted from their decisions.

Finally, a genuine leader commands trust. We know that Jesus, our Good Shepherd is trustworthy because he is one of us! He accepts his mission of love to live and journey with us, and even sacrifices his own life for us, in order to reconcile us to God. As the Psalmist proclaims, we can walk confidently without fear because our Good Shepherd is our “rod” and “staff”, guiding us every step of the way (Ps 23:4).

Returning to the initial question: Are there any genuine leaders among us? The answer is a resounding “yes”! Christ calls each one of us to lead according to the richness of gifts given to us. Indeed, he has already provided a roadmap to genuine leadership: A genuine leader gathers rather than scatters; brings peace instead of hatred; and leads with compassion.