Of servant leadership and why the Judas in Christians must die

Today, the Catholic Church and other Christian traditions celebrate a special day called Holy Thursday. It is the day when ordination to the priesthood was instituted. All priests therefore attend a special mass on Holy Thursday morning to celebrate with the Bishop of the Diocese the special connection between their call to priesthood and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, both instituted on Holy Thursday.

It is on Holy Thursday that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a sign of humility and service to humanity. The bishop washes the feet of the priests. The priests in turn, in the evening, wash the feet of Christians as a remembrance of the centrality of humility and service to humanity. This symbolism has a special meaning to all baptised Christians.

We are to offer ourselves as men and women for others. We are to be at the service of fellow human beings who need our presence and service. The act of washing the feet was shocking to the disciples. Simon Peter could not take it. How can my master wash my feet? Peter knew well that Jesus was the Lord and there was no way he would be served by the master. He knew his space and duty was to serve the master. But Jesus washed his feet.

The evening full of drama also had a twist to it. The man, who would betray Jesus, was on the table during the Last Supper. Jesus served him as well. And, when Jesus said one of them was about to betray him, they looked at themselves with disbelief. Judas, the betrayer, pretended not to be the one. However, from that evening, he disengaged from the rest, went away, and began using his networks to track and betray Jesus to the Pharisees who were looking for an opportunity kumsafirisha Yesu.

The one outstanding lesson we derive from the gospel narratives on the Holy Thursday is servant leadership. Well, not all leaders are from God. Many manipulate their way into leadership. By his closeness to Jesus Judas Iscariot was a leader called by Jesus himself but used his knowledge and association with the master to make a few coins. He was so much active in the disciples’ mission. He was the treasurer. Yet, it is Judas who would betray Jesus for 30 silver coins.

When Jesus was hung on the cross, Judas realised the tragedy of his lust for money. He committed suicide. Since then, we know that money and power can mess up morally upright people. Jesus says, “Not all who call me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7: 21).

A servant leader consults. Decisions of a servant originate from and end in the one served. Therefore, a servant leader listens. It is not possible to be a know-it-all and a servant at the same time. This is the contrary. One can only serve if they hear the instructions given. The desire expressed. The unarticulated aspiration. A servant leader bends to the master to listen and act as guided. Above all, the servant leader serves with love, love unto death. We learn in John 3: 16 that God so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

We Christians have strong tendencies towards the behaviour of Judas while we claim to love Jesus. Our love for money, the mega corruption in society, supervised by ourselves the disciples of Jesus, betrays the reason God so loved the world. We are suggesting that God should send us his only son again, but only when we have destroyed the forests as if climate change is not enough; when we have dry looted the taxpayer; when we would have crushed all those seeking justice and peace for communities in conflict, and when we would have blinded the poor with hope without action.

Holy Thursday evokes contradictory feelings of love and suffering. God loves us. We want to love God in return. But the Judas in us has to die first.

Dr Mokua is the Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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