e people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"
-- Luke 23:35
Notice that it is the leaders who direct this taunt at the crucified. They assume that the messiah will be privileged by virtue of his status. Before anyone else, they think, surely the leader's life will be preserved. He will make saving himself a priority. That's one of the ways in which we'll be able to tell he's the boss.
This is a serious flaw in their understanding of what it means to lead.
The Queen Mum understood it better. "I'm glad we've been bombed," said the mother of two teenaged girls, after Buckingham Palace was hit during the London blitz. "It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face." The little lady in the big hats trudged with her royal husband through the rubble of bombed-out apartment buildings, clasping the hands and looking into the eyes of the people who had called them home. Perhaps she should consider removing with her daughters to the country, suggested the prime minister, where they would all be safer? But she refused.
"The children could not go without me, and I could not possibly leave the king, who would never go," she said. And that was that. She began target practice with a rifle on the palace grounds, just in case. And the apple never falls far from the tree: as soon as she was old enough, her eldest daughter volunteered for military service under her family name -- she was, simply, Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, service number 230873. A grainy black and white photograph survives: the young princess in coveralls, intent on changing a tire.
We will not follow those who do not lead by example. A leader must purchase our faithfulness with his own. He cannot expect us to be more self-giving than he is willing to be. If we know our leaders are willing to lay it all down for us, we will lay it all down for them. And if our leaders preach and model nothing beyond what self-interest prompts, they will get back nothing more than our own self-interest. "What's in it for me?" will be the extent of our political and moral debate. For many citizens and far too many leaders, it already is.
This is the Feast of Christ the King. Christian or no, anyone can strive to be Christ-like. And our leaders must strive to be Christ-like, too: refusing to send their people anywhere they will not go themselves.
Last Pentecost, Christ the King, Proper 29, Year C
Jeremiah 23:1-6 * Canticle 4 or 16
Jeremiah 23:1-6 * Psalm 46