Learning When to Step Down

11 August 2009. Memorial of St. Claire
Deuteronomy 31, 1-8; Deut 32; Matthew 18, 1-14

Those who wrote Deuteronomy prepares us for the death of Moses. They do not peter down his significance in the history of Israel. For he is more than a hero; a significant figure in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He guides them in their sojourn in the desert and brings them to the Promise Land. But why does Moses die before he reaches the Promise Land? I don’t know. There are speculations such as it is a punishment: all that is granted is to see the land from a distance. Maybe. In the epic story of the salvation of Israel, the primary figure is Moses. With his death, we are asked to refocus on the true mover: God. Israel’s future will move on, despite the death of a great leader. Its journey will continue with Joshua, the new leader. Moses’ role in the life of Israel will be taken over by him. He will be the leader in Israel’s crucial settlement in Canaan. Moses’ portion of the plan is over. It is time for another to take his place.

But the change of leadership is not the issue in today’s readings; but who remains constant. The spotlight should zero in on Yahweh: He still sets history. He will continue to be faithful to Israel, as the torch of leadership is passed on from judge to judge, from king to king, from prophet to prophet, from generation to generation. Yahweh is forever.

Therefore, Deuteronomy poses to us all, as Moses encourages Israel, to choose life. Life under the auspices of the Divine. Life is a blessing. Death is a curse; it is without God. The issue therefore is not Yahweh’s graciousness and faithfulness. The issue is Israel’s faithful response; and in extension, our response. That is why Deuteronomy contains all the commandments, blessings and curses, and appeals to obedience. The Deuteronomic stipulations guides Israelites in their appropriate response to God.

To a present-day leader, what then can we learn from the readings? It tells us that part of leadership is continuity. To know when to stay in position and when to step down. To care for possible successors and to train them to take over. To realize and accept that the future is not in our control, but in God’s. That what we do is not only our project, but God’s work too. When we care for continuity, we deflect attention from ourselves to others.

Unfortunately, many organizations are personality-centered. It revolves around the charism of those who are in power. For example, when founding members die, the organization dies with them. Included in leadership is the skill to put up structures that ensure continuity, even if the leaders change. It is to know how to enshrine the goals and values that make the organization in their manner of proceeding. The leaders see to it that these values remain constant, as they discern whether the manner of carrying out these values is to remain, modified or changed in the course of history. Leaders should therefore know what is constant and what can be changed. There are many leaders who do not want to rock the boat, even if the activity is already too archaic. They just mimic what has gone before because they are afraid that they will not be able to please others. They protect themselves, and not the values. They enjoy the perks, that is why they hold on to their positions with their dear life. When they do that, they show that they are leaders whose main concern is I, me and mine.

I believe the readings tell us that we should not be stuck. It tells us that we should be dynamic. How? By focusing not on ourselves but on the welfare of our children, as Jesus pointed out in the Gospel. As an alumnus, we should learn to be open to changes and to entrust to the younger leaders our organizations. As present leader, we should learn to keep the vision alive while discerning what activities enrich and promote the values on which generations of old have promoted with their lives. To be dynamic, one has to love our children. And thus give them even the opportunity to lead and to decide for themselves. When we think of them, we will know what values would make them good and what activities would promote these values better than the ones we once had. After all, it is God’s not ours.

Published by Jboy Gonzales SJ

TV host: ABSCBN's Kape't Pandasal. Environment. Culture. Music. Photography. Leadership. Edgy. Eccentric. Jesuit.

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