The readings for today’s readings brought to mind the perpetual topic of leadership and the selection, appointment and installation of leaders.
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16)
And while we easily think of the application of this verse with priestly vocations, religious life, the call to serve as bishop and in the election of the pope, we are not so quick to apply the same thought to those in the public square of civic leadership. Of course the demagogue is certain to point out that his election or candidacy is divinely appointed, certain destiny, and blessed by God. But apart from the demagogue, the verse challenges me to ask what am I looking for (hoping for) in civic leadership this time around. And hence the image of the “coming storm”.
More broadly, what kind of leader do we want? Certainly a good question here on the threshold of an election cycle even as the pandemic dominates the news cycle. It is always a good question for civil society as well as the Church. I have lived during the pontificates of seven popes and in my lifetime we have certainly had a wide variety of types and styles of leaders. In our history, we have had 266 of popes. We have had some spectacularly amazing leaders, saints in the making, and we have had some spectacularly horrific leaders, who would have been quite at home in Game of Thrones (so I hear, I actually haven’t seen it…). All took up the Keys of Peter, with the same job description given Peter: feed my sheep; tend my lambs. The Pope is the most visible of leaders in the Church, but not the only ones with that same job description. The simple mandate, “feed my sheep; tend my lambs” applies to priests, pastors, parents, principals, police, and anyone who would lead – anyone who would answer the call to minister in the Holy Name of Jesus.
One of the key verses in Scripture is often quickly read and not a whole lot of thought given to it: Genesis 2:15 – “the LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” In Hebrew, the words “cultivate” and “care for” could also have been translated as “serve and protect.” Certainly a familiar slogan serving as a mission for many a police department.
But when you read those who ponder on the covenants and covenantal theology, they have tendency to opt for “serve and protect” as the translation, arguing that is always the task of those on both sides of the covenant agreement. God has a pretty good track record of holding up His side of the covenant; us… not so much. By our fruits we are known.
When we elect someone to public office, they are chosen to serve and protect, but I would also add, sent to bear fruit. Something to consider when we as individuals and community begin to think about our civic leaders.