Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jesus and John

Musings from Bishop William A. Wettingfeld, National Catholic Church of North America

Jesus and John are the protagonists of a great drama of ‘Follow the Leader.’ Reflections upon this monumental drama have far reaching implications for our modern times. Leadership and discipleship are the glues holding the keys to Christian
Spiritual and community development revolve around finding the qualities of some others to be so precious that people desire to cherish them within themselves and use them for their own commitments. This is what it means to follow the leader – or discipleship.
Leadership, on the other hand, is the type of influence someone has when people find your qualities and gifts worthy of esteem and imitation. Nothing spells more doom and gloom within a church community than when individuals live vicariously through others and bask in their talents rather than harvesting their own God-given gifts.
Jesus was a person who both followed and led others (“It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.” - Mark 1:9). For an indefinable period of time, Jesus was solely a follower of John the Baptist (After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee…As he was walking along by the Lake of Galilee he saw Simon and Simon’s brother Andrew casting a net in the lake, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me….” - Mark 12-18). The relationship with the Baptist created the benefits that formed the foundation for Jesus’ own ministry. It seems to be that the amount of time that Jesus spent living with the Baptist was substantial. I doubt that it was merely something like a couple weekend retreats. Moreover, there probably was a time when Christ was both a follower of John and a leader of His own followers (“Now it happened that when all the people had been baptized and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in physical form, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son; today have I fathered you.” – Luke 3:21).
As a follower of John, Jesus still thought for Himself and acted from His own inner locus of control. There were things about John that Jesus deeply respected and incorporated into His own life.Yet, there were still other respected values about John that Jesus did not make a part of His ministry (“John’s disciples are always fasting and saying prayers, …but yours go on eating and drinking….” – Luke 5:33).
Not many contemporary intellectuals of Jesus joined wild John in the desert. Jesus did, however. When Jesus was baptized by John, He identified Himself with the goals of John and his followers. Jesus was viewed as a part of John’s religious criticism His contempory religion and society. Richard Rohr stated regarding John in the desert, “…Jesus trusts him and accepts his non-temple, offbeat nature ritual while also going far beyond him….This son of the priestly temple class does his own thing down by the riverside; he is a superstar who is willing to let go of everything, creating his own water Baptism and then saying that what really matters is the baptism of Spirit and fire.” (*)
”Not withstanding, John’s influence did not place a damper on Christ’s personal beliefs. Both John and Jesus realized that they had something unique to offer one another.

* Rohr, Richard, Preparing for Christmas, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2008. Page 20.

At the same time, they maintained healthy boundaries and distances from each other. What was shared was modified and transformed into something uniquely personal for
both of them. (“Then Jesus appeared: he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. John tried to dissuade him, with words, ‘It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!’ But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands, then John gave in to him.” – Matthew 3: 13).
Simultaneously as a leader and as a follower, Jesus was still always Lord and Master. He still is both. Through His Spirit, He follows His followers into every part of the world who are participating in every possible form of ministry. He goes before them to prepare their paths, heal their mistakes and inspire others through them. Today as yesterday, He continues to lead them further.
Therefore, the rhythms of discipleship and leadership still characterize the post-Resurrection Jesus in His Mystical Body, the Church. Jesus greatest miracles were, and still are, His friends who follow(ed) Him. In fact, Jesus did not work any miracle until He created His personal circle of friends. It was at Cana of Galilee where and when His ministry began.
When John followed Jesus, and when Jesus followed John, they did not require one another to be perfect mirrors of their own beliefs, personalities and life styles. They learned from each other while maintaining their personal boundaries (“The disciples of John gave him all this news, and John, summoning two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?” – Luke 7:18).
To follow someone else does not require us to give up our own thinking. It does not supersede conscience or own personal responsibility. Following someone else’s lead
does not involve disloyalty to one own self. We do not become blind objects of someone else’s history when we follow their lead.
I know blind discipleship has occurred over and over again but it does not have to be that way. Granted there is a justifiable fear of leadership due to people like Jimmy Jones, Hitler, Stalin, 911, Islamic and Mormon fundamentalism, the genocidal movements in the Sudan, Uganda and other parts of Africa and the Shinning Path in Peru.
Even accomplished people like Carl Rogers and Buddha himself, taught that “if you see the Buddha in your path, slay him.” This has been the mantra of the ‘everyone is their own leader’ movement.
However, having faith in others is also a virtue that society at large has lost to some degree or in large measure. To insist that my way is my only way is to insist that all others must see me as a fearless leader - loner. We do not need Buddhists to think like we do to work well with them; we do not need any other Christian denomination to think like we do before we can work together; we do not need Democrats or Republicans to think like we do before we negotiate, we do not need atheists to think like we before we respect them and listen. Let’s keep the focus on working towards a better world and not on dogmatic tenets. A careful reading of Paul’s Epistle to Philemon and the Gospels teach us that virtue cannot be obtained by legislating behavior or insisting in perfect compliance with dogmas or laws. It is the spiritual vitality underneath compliance and belief that makes all the difference between theological dictatorship and spiritual direction.
We must not judge or compare Christian leadership with any other form of political or social leadership. The reason is that Christian leadership is basically a servant form of leadership. We want to develop leadership in others even more then leading ourselves. It is a way of serving others so that their gifts and ideas flower into personal and social success. This is leading and following at the same time – something Christ and John did well.
We strive for this kind of leadership in the NCCNA and pray that he Holy Spirit gives us the strength to do so.

The previous article was taken from the writings of Bishop William A. Wettingfeld, NCCNA

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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