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19 January 2018

Both of today’s passages concern actions of leaders in the early days of their leadership. In the first reading, David Israel’s finest king spares the failed leader that he has called to replace. In the second, the ultimate leader, the king of all creation calls his key leaders to himself.

All of us can think of good leaders in our own lives. The parents, teachers, coaches, captains, bosses, priests, religious or lay leaders that inspired or sustained us at critical times. It is equally true that we have experienced poor, even malign authority figures. We live in an age of leadership failure. Confidence in political leaders and institutions has never been lower. Lately this age’s self-appointed cultural leaders – Hollywood stars and powerbrokers – are being revealed to be breathtakingly destructive hypocrites. Tragically we now know of the immense harm done by evil people within Church and by the ensuing cover-ups.

How do we deal with a fallible, failing leader? How do we respond to a morally defective one?

Despite heroic service by David, Saul has on several occasions sought to kill David who is now on the run with a small band of followers. Saul has so severely misbehaved that the Lord rejected him and sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David as Saul’s successor. David is now given an apparently, heaven-sent opportunity to remove the threat permanently. He refuses to take the opportunity “Touch not the Lord’s anointed!” – As one translation has it. After Saul has moved off, David does, however, courageously call out Saul’s behavior (they are still in earshot after all) and he does so in the presence of Saul’s army.

It is also true that good leadership is immensely difficult. Contrast Saul’s envious, impetuous and uneven leadership with Jesus reflective calling of his apostles. Saul fails his people and leads Israel to disaster. Jesus will be failed by his people, but sacrifices himself for them and afterward restores the repentant Peter. Saul uses people, Jesus serves them.

Today, let’s reflect on our leaders. Am I supporting poor behavior; going along with wrong actions for convenience or employment’s sake? Do I need to challenge or report wrongdoing? Conversely, am I taking a superior for granted? Am I letting her or him take up the slack of my laziness? If I have a good leader – and this especially so in the Church – am I doing all that I can to support him or her? If I respect them, do they know? Lastly, if I have leadership responsibilities, am I leading more like Saul, or like Jesus? What will people say of me?

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