By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
Have you ever wondered why societies are going morally, economically, socially and spiritually bankrupt? Have you ever wondered why things appear to be going from bad to worse in our world? Have you wondered why the family unit is obviously more and more failing or disintegrating? The simple reason, by my reckoning, is that those to whom God entrusts the responsibility of leadership have continued to fail at it. And this is what the readings of today’s Mass address.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah denounces the political leadership of the house of Israel for their brazen failure in taking care of the people of God. Using the imagery of the shepherd for the leaders and the sheep for the people, Jeremiah accuses them, in God’s name, that rather than attending to the sheep, the shepherds have destroyed and scattered them. The second reading describes Jesus as the shepherd who gathers and unites the sheep, removing the walls that separate them while the gospel paints the picture of Jesus as the shepherd who sacrifices his comfort and rest for the sake of the sheep. But unlike Jesus, the shepherds of Israel abandon the sheep and even drive them away. However, the Psalmist assures us that we have the Lord as our shepherd therefore, we shall not want for anything. From these readings, we shall take three lessons.
Every leader shall render an account of stewardship to God – It is a fact that at the end of our lives, we shall render an account to God of how we have lived this life he gave us. In addition to this, all of us who have ever been, who are, and who will ever be leaders in whatever capacity, shall render an extra account to God for those he put under our authority. When that day comes, what kind of account shall we present to God? Through the prophet Jeremiah, as we heard in the first reading today, God denounced the leaders of Israel for failing in their responsibilities. Through the prophet Ezekiel too, God also strongly condemned the leaders of Israel for their bad leadership as a result of which the society became morally, economically and spiritually bankrupt and putrid (cf. Ezk 34:1ff). Because the leaders of Israel failed, the people were scattered, and God said he will bring the leaders to judgment.
What was true of Israel then is still very true of our world today and Nigeria in particular. Today, our society is failing because rather than lead, our leaders are consciously destroying the country; rather than gather the people together, our leaders are consciously and deliberately sowing seeds of division and perching the country at the edge of the precipice of division and destruction. In Nigeria presently, what we have are not political leaders but political bandits and vampires who are sucking the life out of the nation. Families too are failing because parents are increasingly neglecting their responsibilities in the homes. Parents now brazenly do evil in the presence of their children and even encourage the children to do the same. Parents are proud to see their children growing in the knowledge of the world without a corresponding growth in the knowledge of the Lord, something they ordinarily ought to be ashamed of. The church is also failing because spiritual leaders are neglecting the truths of the gospel to pursue the gospel of wealth and material prosperity while neglecting spiritual prosperity; more and more, rather than hear the gospel being preached, we are hearing motivational speeches from the pulpit. But to all leaders who have neglected their God-given mandates, God says in Jeremiah 23:2, “I will attend to you for your evil doings…” For all of us therefore, who hold different leadership positions, let us keep in mind that God will bring us to judgment and we shall give an account to him of how we managed the power and authority he gave to us.
Leadership involves sacrifices – No one can be a true leader if all he seeks is a life of comfort. It is said that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” because it is not easy to lead; and the reason why very many people fail at leadership is because they are not ready to make sacrifices. But to lead effectively, you must be ready to sacrifice your time, energy, comfort and even resources for the good of those you lead. This is the example Jesus shows us in the gospel reading of today’s Mass. After working very hard with his disciples, they wanted to rest, but the people will not let them; they came running after Jesus and his disciples, seeking for help. Rather than send them away, Jesus pitied them and taught them, sacrificing the rest he had desired with his disciples. Jesus says while the good shepherd (leader) is ready to sacrifice for his sheep, the bad leader runs away when a sacrifice is needed to be made (cf. Jn 10:11). Whatever leadership position you hold at any given time, be ready to make sacrifices for the good of those under you. I especially call on parents to do more in sacrificing their time and comfort to give greater attention to the proper training of their children. If we get it right from the home, we shall have less work to do in the society.
Leaders must listen to their followers – One of the attributes of the good shepherd Jesus gives is that the shepherd and the sheep communicate with each other (Cf. Jn 10:3-5). The sheep listen to the shepherd because the shepherd first listens to them. In our today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus doing this in practice – he listened to the yearnings, aspirations and the cries of the people and he attended to them. No one can be a good leader if he does not listen to his followers. And the followers will communicate messages either by words, by actions, by inactions or by all three means. It will take a good shepherd to listen to them and act when, where and how necessary. Again, there is everywhere a failure of leadership in this regard. Political leaders are not listening to the cries and groaning of their people, with President Buhari and his cohorts as a perfect example. Parents are not listening to what their children are communicating to them, maybe because they are too busy with other things that they do not have time for proper parenting. Church leaders are also not listening to the silent communications of the congregation because some have other interests different from the gospel mandate. Whenever and wherever this happens, there is bound to be all kinds of trouble looming in the corners. God challenges us today to be leaders who not only listen to our followers but who also will act positively as we see necessary.
Finally, child of God, the word of God for us today is simple: we are leaders in different capacities and we must do our best to be good ones. When people fail at leadership, many bad things happen in the community they lead. We should do our best therefore, aided by the grace of God, to make sure we carry out whatever leadership role God entrusts to us very well.