September 19, 2017
by George Butterfield
Creighton University's School of Law Library, Retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 444

1 Tm 3:1-13
Psalm 101:1b-2ab, 2cd-3ab, 5, 6

Praying Ordinary Time

Saint Paul's description of a Christian leader is quite instructive. He includes bishops, deacons, and women. We do not know whether the latter is a woman deacon, the wife of a deacon, or some other type of leader within the church. The purpose of this reflection is not to delve into that but to look at the qualities expected of anyone who would lead the people of God.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that it is okay to aspire to Christian leadership. I have known individuals in diaconate formation who made a point to emphasize that being a deacon was not their idea but that others came to them with the idea. It's almost as if they came to formation kicking and screaming. To me this is false humility. If it is true, that is fine. But it need not be. It is quite okay to observe deacons, priests, or bishops and aspire to be one.

The second thing that strikes me about this passage is that, although Paul refers to the office of a bishop as a "noble task," he doesn't really talk about tasks. Instead, he talks about the type of person we need as a bishop. He does the same when speaking of deacons and the women. The closest he comes to speaking of tasks is that they be able teachers and good managers - the latter being a reference to knowing how to take care of people. The remainder of his instructions focus on the character of the leader: faithful in marriage, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, not aggressive, gentle, etc. He warns the Church not to appoint recent converts or people who have not been tested. A good leader is one who has learned first to be a good follower.

The psalm response imitates Saint Paul by focusing on the character of the disciple. Like the bishop, deacon, or women, followers of God walk with a blameless heart. They persevere in the way of integrity. They guard their eyes from even looking on something that is base. They do not slander, do not have haughty eyes, or a puffed up heart. These are exactly the type of people that Paul would appoint as leaders in the Church.

In the Gospel story we catch a glimpse of why Saint Paul focuses more on the character of leaders instead of their tasks. Jesus himself does a great deed; he restores a dead son to his widowed mother. Only God can do this so the people saw in this act the visitation of his people by God himself. However, the focus in the story is not so much on what Jesus did but why he did it. Jesus "saw her." He saw a woman who had received a "double whammy," the death of her husband and now her only son. This is a woman in trouble; she will be destitute. Jesus was "moved with pity for her." This is why he acted. He wasn't showing off or trying to prove something. He was doing what he could to help a woman who desperately needed it. He was showing the mercy of God. As Pope Francis has said, Jesus is the face of the Father's mercy.

If those who are called to leadership in the Church will take care to be like Jesus, the tasks will take care of themselves.

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