Identity vs. Issue

This political season can be summed up in three words, to some extent, identity versus issues. For identity to carry the day, the individual must be charismatic, embolden his or her followers to tell others about him or her, and seek to be regarded as the center of attention. Issues often have a charismatic person at the core, but one of humility who doesn’t seek the spotlight. Someone who accepts disagreement with love and compassion, and nurtures the truth in each of us to go forth.

This liturgical season seems to follow suit.

Once when Jesus was praying by himself,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He scolded them
and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
Luke 9 (New American Bible,

Jesus is the model of leadership par excellence for most of us. This Gospel establishes the framework for that model.

While the disciples recognize him as the Christ, the Messiah, the great spiritual leader that they have been awaiting, Jesus himself knows that true leadership cannot be deeply nurtured, explored, lived through, and sustained through identity leadership.

Think of how many different times and places where you have seen a strong and charismatic leader develop a rich and grace-filled ministry in a parish or school, only to leave at some point and the ministry to die on the vine.

Most great religious orders have dealt with this when their founder died, and they struggled with how and with whom to move on. They knew that there had to be something deeper — a charism — that bound them together, something that went beyond the personality or the identity of the leader.

Take a moment and think about what would have happened had Jesus told his followers to tell everyone who he was. Would the Gospel have gotten past the first century?

Jesus always knew that his life and ministry were about the issues–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, taking in the homeless, setting prisoners free. Even the fights of the early Church were not around these. These were fundamental.

So, in what ways are you a leader through your identity? What are the strengths and weaknesses of that? When and where are you a leader through issues? How do you ensure that you can pass on the baton of leadership to others?

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