Today’s readings and feast challenge both the location of
our faith and the depth of our faith, it seems to me. The first
reading from the Book of Deuteronomy places us in the context of
the ending of the founding story of Israel. Moses, the great hero,
and God’s good servant is dying but the work is not finished.
Moses is not going to lead God’s people into the Promised
Land. Obviously, the people had put their faith in Moses by this
time. He has led them for the better part of forty years and they
can see the end of the road on the horizon. But Moses insists that
it is God who has been leading them and will continue to do the
leading. God has chosen a new servant for this last phase of the
project, just as God had chosen Moses was the earlier phases of
this complex and very dramatic journey. The point here is that anyone
who has put faith in Moses has misplaced it and must now
put his faith NOT in Joshua, but in the Lord, and no one else. It
does not matter who the servant leader is, it is God who is really
doing the work and is bringing forth a people on the land.
For this reason, also, Moses tells them to not be afraid. After
all, if God is leading them who can stand against them – no
matter how strong and expert they look.
The Gospel reading again challenges our sense of who is in charge
and who is the real leader. The Apostles ask Jesus who will be the
greatest in the Kingdom of God. Who is going to be right up there
with Moses and Joshua as trusted servants anyway? The implicit sense
of the question is that “surely it will be me or one of us,
won’t it?” Jesus, to make his point very strong puts
the one person who has NO POWER in Israel – a child –
in front of them – very likely a girl child, just to really
make the point. God is in charge here, fellows – and if you
want to be in charge look to what God means by that.
A servant leader, after all, looks like Moses, who is chased out
of any notion of power in human terms, and driven off to learn to
be a leader by herding sheep, and then brought back home to drag
a griping, sniping, ungrateful group of slaves across a desert -
to save them even while they went kicking and screaming.
Or we can look to the perfect servant leader, Jesus. In him we have
the model of suffering servant, the one persecuted, treated violently
and put to death. As he has done, so must we do if we think we are
called to leadership in God’s Reign.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose memorial we celebrate today, is an example
of such a real leader, a true servant in God’s Kingdom. Even
before his death at the hands of the Nazis, Kolbe lived a life of
heroic virtue as the superior of a large Franciscan mission of evangelization
and publication in Northern Poland. Kolbe’s passionate love
of Christ and the Blessed Mother was brought to perfection in his
terrible death of starvation, beating and finally chemical injection
on the Vigil of the Assumption – that great feast of Mary
that fulfills the promise of the Resurrection for those who live
“in Christ.” Kolbe’s death was a martyrdom not
only because he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured as an active
leader of the Catholic Faith in Poland, but because he volunteered
his life so that a man with a family could be spared an arbitrary
decimation by the Nazi guards in retaliation for an escape by another
prisoner. John Paul II held Kolbe up for our attention and veneration
as one who genuinely understood and accepted the cost of faith leadership
in the modern world.
For those who fear the next steps in life, whatever they might be
or bring, Moses, Jesus and Kolbe all remind us today that God is
absolutely and finally in charge. We can go forward in faith and
confidence wherever we are called to serve and at whatever cost,
and the project belongs to God not to us. At the beginning of a
new semester and school year here at Creighton that reminder seems
The Lord alone is our leader! No strange god
is with us.