SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  TITUS 1:1-9;  LUKE 17:1-6  ]

The first reading from the letter of St Paul to Titus speaks about the responsibilities and qualities of a representative of God.  Although this letter speaks about the elders of the Church, pastors and bishop, it is applicable to all insofar as we exercise the role of elder in our family, community and place of work.  Indeed, all of us as parents, teachers, seniors, mentors and leaders are called to be the representative of God.

More than ever today, we need to underscore the grave responsibility of leaders.   Unfortunately, leaders today are reducible to corporate leaders where their responsibility is basically to bring in business and profits.  Government leaders are expected to ensure peace, law and order in the country and economic progress.  However, political and corporate leaders are no longer seen as mentors for others in how they live their lives.  Focus is on what they can produce; not about their lifestyle and moral character.  This is a sad and tragic reality of society.  Our leaders are no longer exemplary in their life and conduct.  Those who stand for office in government may be criminals and liars.  Yet they are elected because they have influence, power and money.  What happened to those candidates with high moral values?

Indeed, in the gospel, Jesus reminds us that as leaders, parents and elders, we can either inspire those who are under our charge or cause them to lose faith in people and society.  Quite often, because of the behavior of our parents and leaders, we lose faith in them as they are not credible.  When we do not trust in the integrity of our leaders, they have lost the moral authority to govern.  This also explains why taking advantage of children, especially abusing them, physically, emotionally and sexually, is a serious crime against humanity.  In cases of pedophilia, the penalty is severe because they ruin the future of those children they abused.  Many of us continue to lick our wounds from our upbringing by our parents, grandparents and relatives.  Those under our care should see us as their mentors and as representatives of God.

Consequently, Jesus urged the disciples to “Watch yourselves!”  How can we be alert to the dangers of being counter-witnesses to the love of God?  Firstly, we need to remember who we are.  St Paul from the outset called himself “servant of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ.”  He was very clear that he was a slave of our Lord and therefore his entire life belonged to God, not to himself.  His desire was to serve God his master by doing everything in accordance to His will.   As an apostle of Jesus Christ, he was also aware that he had been sent.  An apostle is one who is sent.  So his messages did not come from him but from Christ who sent him.  Because he was sent, he depended and relied only on our Lord Jesus Christ.

We too are called to be the servant of God and to be His apostle.  We are called to give our lives entirely to the Lord for His service to His people.  As such, our concern is to do the will of God and to please Him our master.  We must not think highly of ourselves, as if we are our own masters.  Christ is our master and we are only His servants.  All prophets, priests and kings in the scriptures understood that they were servants of God.  As apostles, as sent, we should therefore remember that we are ambassadors, acting on Christ’s behalf.    We take our guidance from Him and we do not proclaim ourselves but our Lord and His message.  We are only deputized and we are to draw people to Christ and not to ourselves.

Secondly, we must be conscious of our mission.  We are called to be God’s representatives, “to bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion; and to give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised so long ago by God.”   As leaders, we must inspire faith so that they too will have faith in God.  In what we do, we need to let our faith shine through us not just by our words but also by our actions so that others will be drawn to faith in the God whom we worship.  We are also to help them grow in the understanding of the truth.  As God’s representative, we are to instruct those under our charge in the truth about God and about life.  Christ, for us, is of course the truth in person.  Leading a person to Christ through the study of the Word of God, scripture and tradition of the Church helps a person to grow in faith.  And finally, the ultimate goal of faith and instruction in the ultimate truth is to lead others to the fullness of life in Christ.  We must never forget that our life does not end here on earth but continues into the next life.  The fullness of life is when we share in the life of God.  To that extent, this hope of humanity is fulfilled.

Thirdly, to fulfill our mission as God’s representative, we need to work on our character.  This is where St Paul instructs us on the virtues that we need to acquire as God’s representative.  Without leaders with high moral standing, those in power and in authority will not succeed.  Indeed, the greatest challenge of leaders is to walk the talk before they can lead others.  Leaders teach ultimately by their being, by their examples and by their lives.   Accordingly, St Paul gave the essential qualities of an elder.

Twice he reiterated that leaders must be of irreproachable character.  They need to be people with integrity and honesty.  This is the first quality of a good elder.  Otherwise, people will not respect him.  What we need today are witnesses and mentors, not teachers who tell us what to do when they themselves cannot do them.   This also explains why St Paul demanded that elders should be exemplary in managing their own families and household if they were to manage the family of God. “He must not have been married more than once, and his children must be believers and not uncontrollable or liable to be charged with disorderly conduct.”   If he cannot manage his own family, how could he manage the family of God?

Secondly, the representative of God must learn how to practice self-control and self-discipline.  Again, if we cannot manage our own lives, how can we help to manage the lives of others?  St Paul says that he must not ever be “an arrogant or hot-tempered man, nor a heavy drinker or violent, nor out to make money; but a man who is hospitable and a friend of all that is good; sensible, moral, devout and self-controlled.”  Indeed, leaders and parents who shout at us, threaten us with violence or lack humility in dealing with people of lesser status often put us off.   The leaders that inspire are those who even in their greatness remain humble, polite, courteous, respectful and considerate.  These are the real inspiring leaders because they project themselves as servants of God, not as masters of man.

Thirdly, a representative of God cannot afford to be materialistic and money-minded.  When he is “out to make money” or to make a name for himself, he is not truly serving God or His people but himself.  A true leader is always thinking of others’ interests and well-being.  He does not seek to elevate or increase his wealth and power but to bring about a greater good for all.  For that reason, one who is truly the representative remains indifferent and detached from money and status, seeing them as means for him to exercise hospitality to all and to do works of mercy for those in need of assistance.

Fourthly, a true leader must know his work well.  A religious leader must know the doctrines and the teachings of the Church well if he were to guide his people.  He must be ever ready to defend the truth and to stand up for Christ.  Unless, we leaders are well versed in what we should know and be ready to give a reason for our hope and our passion, we cannot lead others to share in our vision and mission.  This calls for ongoing formation and reflection each day.  Leaders must always be forming themselves so that they can form others.  We need to grow in our faith each day.  Leaders must seek to strengthen their faith in the Lord more and more each if they are to lead.  Unfortunately, leaders often tell people what to do but never practice what they teach others.  The irony is that they save the souls of others and lose their own!

Of course, as leaders we know that we are far from perfect.  We must be ready to seek correction and forgiveness.   None of us is ever worthy to be a leader.  So long as we are striving to become the servant leader and the apostle that He wants us to be, we should be ready to learn and grow.  “He shall receive blessings from the Lord and reward from the God who saves him.  Such are the men who seek him, seek the face of the God of Jacob.”  Those of us who are followers need to be realistic and not have high expectations of impeccability in our leaders.  Hence, Jesus invites us to seek forgiveness from each other. “If your brother does something wrong, reprove him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, “I am sorry”, you must forgive him.’”  So long as leaders are sincere in serving God and people, we must be forgiving and tolerant.  We should not lose faith too easily just because our leaders fail us as God’s representative.  God is greater than His human and fallible representatives.  But if we have faith just “the size of a mustard seed” we could do great things for the Lord who works through us in spite of our inadequacies.