Father David's Reflection for Thursday of Week Thirty-Three (Ordinary Time)
In 1 Maccabees 2:15-29 we see the difference between authorities and leaders. Both are necessary. Either
can be good or bad. But they have two different functions. The first function of authorities is to hold the community together. They may or may not exercise leadership. The function of leaders is to move the community forward, or move it to respond to current challenges. They may or may not have any authority.
In today’s reading the authorities were bad. The “officers of the king” were trying to unite the country by imposing on everyone the religion of the conquering culture, and stamping out all others. That is a common feature of colonialism. The English persecuted Catholics and other “dissenters” at home, and tried to stamp out the Church and native language in Ireland. They were not exceptional. Many empires have sought unity by forbidding diversity. Even the Church recognizes she has been less “catholic” at times by imposing “Roman” customs and language that stifled native cultural expression and suppressed the self-identity of local churches.
Luke 19:41-44: Jesus could have used some lay leadership among his people. The “people” generally approved of him. They “regarded him as a prophet” and were “spellbound by his teaching.” But they did not stand up against the authority of the “chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees.” It made Jesus weep over Jerusalem: “Days will come upon you when your enemies... will wipe you out... because you failed to recognize the time of your visitation.” Those who did recognize it failed to stand up.
Luke says, “the chief priests, leaders, and the people... all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas!’” It seems clear that by “leaders” he means those with position and prestige that came from their identification with the establishment, like the scribes and Pharisees. The “people” let themselves be swayed by them. On the day of Jesus’ trial those who believed in him were all absent or intimidated. When Jesus was crucified the “people stood by, watching.” When authority succeeds in squelching leadership from the ordinary people, destruction follows (see Matthew 21:46; 27:20; Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47; 22:2; 23:13, 18, 35).
We who are consecrated “stewards of the kingship of Christ,” are committed by Baptism to take action where action is possible and called for. Failure to lead when one knows the way to go is a failure in stewardship. God says in the Responsorial (Psalm 50), “To the upright I will show the saving power of God.” But only if they are willing to speak up and act on what they see.
The king’s officers targeted Mattathias because they recognized him as “a leader... and great man in this city, supported by sons and kinsmen.” They needed him on their side. They were ready to bribe or kill him. He chose resistance and “fled to the mountains with his sons, leaving behind all their possessions.” Leaders pay the price.
Initiative: Be a leader. Stand up and speak out until you are shot down.