20 August, Saturday – Greatness Redefined

20 August – Memorial for St. Bernard, Abbot, Doctor

Bernard (1090-1153) founded and led a monastery which had over 700 monks and 160 daughter houses. He revised and reformed the Cistercians, and was advisor to, and admonisher of, King Louis the Fat and King Louis the Young, and spritual advisor to Pope Eugenius III, who had originally been one of his monks. Every morning Bernard would ask himself, “Why have I come here?”, and then remind himself of his main duty – to lead a holy life.

– Patron Saint Index


Ezekiel 43:1-7

The angel took me to the gate, the one facing east. I saw the glory of the God of Israel approaching from the east. A sound came with it, like the sound of the ocean, and the earth shone with his glory. This vision was like the one I had seen when I had come for the destruction of the city, and like the one I had seen on the bank of the river Chebar. Then I prostrated myself.

The glory of the Lord arrived at the Temple by the east gate. The spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; I saw the glory of the Lord fill the Temple. And I heard someone speaking to me from the Temple while the man stood beside me. The voice said, ‘Son of man, this is the dais of my throne, the step on which I rest my feet. I shall live here among the sons of Israel for ever.’


Matthew 23:1-12

Addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.

‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’


“The greatest among you must be your servant”

I never really knew my dad, who passed away in 2006, having grown up in Singapore while he lived in Taiwan from the time I was about 10. Oddly, I remember having a couple of conversations with him about work. While the actual conversations are really vague (40 odd years IS a long time!), the main topic was about his bosses during the time he was working as a geophysicist. The feeling I got was that his bosses were less-than-ideal and his brushes with his bosses were great fodder for a father-and-son chat. What struck me was his comment that he would have made a better boss.

I have gone on to enter the working world since those conversations with my dad and have had similar conversations with friends and colleagues about ‘bosses’. Yes, we had good bosses and more bad ones. Again, many conversations ended with the conclusion that we would make better bosses than the ones we had.

However, no conversation ever took place about what it meant to be a great leader. I suspect that if we did have these discussions, we would probably have said that our bosses would be totally knowledgeable, impartial, kind, caring, fair, funny, balanced and driven.

My thoughts about great leadership came about when I was leading teams in my jobs. While I understood what attributes a great leader should have, I found it extremely difficult to manage. Work was not just about dealing or managing the team, but also working with clients, (highly) expectant bosses and other stakeholders. To this day, I feel I had fallen short of the qualities that I had deemed important qualities of great leadership.

Today’s gospel goes contrary to the way leadership is viewed in the commercial world. While I thought what I was practicing was ‘servant leadership’, the reality was that the whole basis of my leadership was self-serving. At the foundation of the approach still lay the need to have recognition from others. I wanted my team to think that I was the best boss they ever had, while achieving top results in terms of performance. Without realizing it, I wanted my bosses to pat me on my back, singing my praises.

The basis of true ‘servant leadership’ cannot be so. One cannot be a true servant with even one eye on ourselves; we would be too busy protecting our own interests if we were to do so. We can model and draw strength from our Lord, who gave up His life to show us the true meaning of what ‘servant leadership’ really means.

“Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the cross, He endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now has taken His place at the right of God’s throne. Think of the way He stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.”(Heb 12:2-4)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father, we pray that we can be true servant leaders and become conduits of Your love. Help us Father to not look at ourselves in our service to others, and to You.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for showing us the right path to take, to be more like You. Thank you Lord for always giving us strength to make the right choices as we walk towards Your eternal kingdom.

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