18 June 2008 Wednesday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 2, 1, 6-14; Psalm 31, 20-24; Matthew 6, 1-18
In the first reading, Elisha succeeds Elijah. This opening segment gives us a picture of leadership succession. How was the succession given? First, Elijah asked Elisha to come with him to the Jordan River. He strikes the water with his rolled mantle and the waters divided. Such power recalls Israel’s leaders such as Moses (Exodus 14) and Joshua (Josh 3). Second, Elisha requests Elijah to give him a double portion of his spirit. A double portion is given to the eldest son as a privilege in Deuteronomy 21, 17. And Elijah promised to give it. Third, Elijah was taken up by flaming chariots and flaming horses. Fire has always been linked with Elijah, the prophet, as he brought fire to consume the offerings on the altar. The event was to prove who among Israel’s gods — Baal or Yahweh — was the true and only God. Elijah has been Israel’s guide and source of security. Finally, Elijah’s mantle fell from the chariot. Elisha tore his own garment, and took Elijah’s mantle instead. Clothes, in olden times, has always been taken as an extension of the person.
When Elijah was gone, Elisha took Elijah’s mantle and strikes the Jordan river. The waters of the Jordan separated as Elijah has done. This suggests that Elijah indeed has given Elisha a double portion of his spirit and power. In addition, Elisha performs a miracle: in verse 19-23, Elisha makes the water of Jericho pure. Moreover, with his cloak, Elisha thus assumes Elijah’s identity. Elisha then gets the obeisance due him as Elijah’s successor when the ‘guild prophets’ (adherents and dependents) prostrated themselves to him. Later in his life, Elisha will also be addressed as fire in 2 Kings 13, 14 — like Elijah.
Assuming a responsibility is part of growing up. In fact, it is an opportunity for many to develop leadership skills, manage people, hone their talents and use them at the service of a specific community. When we are elected as officers in an organization, as project managers, or even as facilitators, we are always confronted with the question of succession: Should I continue what the past leaders have been doing? Should I change the system? Many leaders face this dilemma. If we continue with what has been done, how about our personal contribution. If we change everything, how about our tradition and history? Guess, a large part of the dilemma is about motivation. Student leaders have a tenure of one school-year: to continue what has been done in the past means having no impact; to change the system might make him/her popular, but sustainability will be the challenge.
As leaders, we have to admit that whatever impact we might have is often influenced greatly by our predecessors and successors. Whether or not we are conscious about it, we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us and laid the foundation for those who will follow. On the other hand, leaders whose term is just a matter of one year, tries to make a difference by making a 360-degree turn-around, resorting to quick-fixes. The result is that any efforts at improvement are not sustained. It can catapult a leader to promotion with a great reputation, but its members might feel overburdened by too much pushing. To be given a responsibility means to fulfill it not for the sake of one’s glory, but for the sake of its members.
To ask first what would be best for the organization may be the best thing to do. If continuing tradition would be best, especially if the past leadership has seen it beneficial, then a great leader would continue the program. This, to me, is the warning of the Gospel. When we do things, we don’t do it for show. Because if it is for show, then it is about the leader’s ego. We have seen pictures of national leaders kneeling at church pews holding a string of big rosary beads and attending mass. It would be a great picture, but for those who know the real score, one could easily see the motivation, if not, the ignorance. First, how can you concentrate about praying the rosary when you are in the midst of people who sing, stand, kneel, and respond? Second, we are told that the mass is the peak of worship and devotions such as the rosary are not encouraged within the celebration of the Eucharist. Third, try to prevent cameras from clicking, and slowly notice whether the national leader would move the beads.
St. Ignatius gives us a principle: tantum quantum. Use if it leads to God’s greater glory. Thus, follow what would help bring the organization closer to God.