Gospel: Jn 14, 23 – 29
Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.”
At the beginning of this reflection it is important to explain that the Gospel always speaks to us on two levels. It tells a story about a man called Jesus and his interaction with God and with those who surrounded him. It also tells a contemporary story however in which we can all find ourselves. The story of Jesus we all know. The contemporary story must be explained.
I had never seen my parents spend a night away from each other and then one day my father announced that he was going to England to study for a year and that my mother would go to England to be with him for the last three months of his stay away from home. While all of us, their children put on a brave face we were all more than a bit apprehensive. We would be without the comforting and assuring presence of our Father. I remember my Father speaking to us and telling us why it was important that he go and that his going would be of benefit to all of us. I am certain also that he saw the occasion of his absence as a period of growth for us. He would not have gone if it was otherwise.
As I read the Gospel passage given to us for our meditation this weekend I tried to enter into the hearts of the disciples and I remembered how I felt with my father’s impending absence. Jesus had been with the disciples for three years. He had been with them in very difficult and at times very frightening moments. They had come to expect and rely on his reassuring presence and words and now he tells them that he is about to leave. Their dreams and ambitions would have appeared to be at an end so Jesus speaks to them and tries to reassure them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.” He invites them to confidence in their own potentialities and the possibilities of growth. . “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” He also reminds them that they must not be self-centred, wanting him to remain with them always. “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.”
As we reflect this Easter 2010 on the two levels at which the Gospel passages of Eastertide speak to us, we must now ask ourselves what is being told to us about leadership. The first thing this gospel passage says to us is that true leaders know when it is time for them to move on. The temptation to hold on to power is extremely strong. This temptation tells the leader that without him/her nothing will happen. The true leader resists that temptation. The true leader knows that his/her continued and enduring presence will hinder growth and will not allow those in his/her charge to develop. The true leader is always on the lookout for those who can carry his/her people a little further than he/she can carry them. Like Jesus the true leader is always about succession planning. The true leader is never about the self, the true leader is always about the good of those in his/her charge and that love for his/her charges helps him/her to let go and move on when the good of his/her charges necessitates another presence.
When individuals are able to imitate Jesus, when they can resist the temptation of thinking that they are indispensable, they can leave at the proper time without bitterness. Those who can act like that have not succumbed to the addiction to power. We see greatness in people who do not wait to be thrown out, they move on when they should.
Julius Nyerere in Tanzania gave up power when he was still a relatively young man, and was hailed as the first African leader to willingly renounce power. His greatness did not come from the external power that he had but from the inner strength which allowed him to leave when he knew that his time had come. He was not addicted to power.
Nelson Mandela gave up the presidency of South Africa after one term. Many urged him to seek a second term. His inner power allowed him to leave the external power behind, yet in his retirement his moral authority is even greater. This requirement of leadership is not limited to political and civil rulers. It must also be exercised by parents who can hinder their children growth by not letting them go at the appropriate moment.
And so you and I must ask ourselves whether or not we know when to move on, when to let go. We must implore the Spirit of God, the Advocate, to come to our aid so that like Jesus we know when it is time to move on so that others will help those in our charge to move further on in their journey of life. To do otherwise is to stultify those in our charge.
All powerful and ever-loving God, the addiction to power can change great men into tyrants. Help us your people to understand that power is always for the good of others, not for our own benefit and that it must always be exercised in a spirit of servant-hood. May your Holy Spirit, the Advocate, lead us into all truth so that we will exercise power in the manner of the disciples of Jesus. We ask this through the intercession of Mary, our Mother and Jesus, our leader and guide. Amen