Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Take What Is Yours

“Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the buckthorn replied to the trees, ‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”  Judges 9:14-15

“‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  Matthew 20:13-16

Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess
In the constituting of an Abbess let this plan always be followed, that the office be conferred on the one who is chosen either by the whole community unanimously in the fear of God or else by a part of the community, however small, if its counsel is more wholesome. Merit of life and wisdom of doctrine
should determine the choice of the one to be constituted, even if she be the last of the order of the community.

Two parables today leave us thinking about the role and constitution of our leaders and how these different messages fit together. 

The first is the parable of the trees from the Hebrew Bible as told by Jotham right after the people chose the murderous Abimelech as their king.  In the parable, the trees are asked to choose wisely and act in good faith and then the king will be a just ruler.  The olive tree, the fig tree and the vine do not want to give up their goodness to be king.  Without a generous spirit, the king would have nothing to offer to the people.  Then, the people turned to the buckthorn. 

Here, it helps to have a little background in horticulture.  Some species of buckthorn are said to be invasive outside their natural areas. According to one source, the nursery industry in parts of the U.S. stopped selling it in the 1930s, but many buckthorn hedges may still be found in older neighborhoods.  While some species are used to make dyes and oils and gunpowder, most do not have the positive qualities that we associate with figs, olives or grapes.

Therefore, the choice of the buckthorn is implied to be a poor choice as king of the trees. Jotham, who escaped the murder plot by going into hiding, is offering a pointedly negative critique of the choice of Abimelech as king.  He would probably feel right at home being an analyst for cable news. 

Rather than having admiral qualities like the other options, Jotham is charging that the people chose poorly and selected a king who would work for his own purpose, not for the good of the people.  The leader has only shown a selfish lust for power, not any kind of generous spirit for the people.   Abimelech took what was NOT his by killing off his competition and practically forcing the people to make him king.

While hubris and a lack of generosity are at the root of the first reading, true generosity – poorly understood -- is the theme of the Good News.  Positive generosity from the landlord is not grasped by the people who do not know what to make of what appears to be excessive generosity.  When challenged why the late workers were given the same wages as those who worked all day, the landlord replied, “Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go.”  In this case, we have the opposite situation.  The generous nature of the leader is shown but it is not accepted.  Beyond generosity, the landlord also drives home the point of humility concluding that “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Choosing the right leader – who exhibits the right qualities of leadership – is the common theme of the Hebrew Bible, the Good News and the reading from the Rule of St. Benedict for today. 

We have many leaders in our lives – political, family, religious, and organizational.  Some of us also may be leaders to others. Cursillo confers upon us special leadership responsibilities in our community and groups.
How were you chosen for that role? How do you chose others to be your leader?

Sometimes, we apply for jobs in management and go through a rigorous selection process.  For every person chosen, several other candidates must be passed over.  Sometimes, we might be the ones not chosen.  Although disappointed, how do we then react with a generous heart to the person now in charge? Are we envious because we are not in charge?

Sometimes, we might be the choice.  How do we then react with a generous heart to providing proper leadership to those in our charge? Maybe we should always keep in mind the words of the Roman centurion whom we quote at Mass.  “Lord I am not worthy…but only say the Word.”  

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