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September 19, 2003
Friday's eMo is always a reflection on the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. Preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is needed.

"And they came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, 'What were you discussing on the way?' But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest.

This is the foolish result of yet another failed conversation in which Jesus tries to tell his friends what it's going to mean to be the Christ and -- yet again -- they don't get it. They're miles behind him -- walking along arguing about which of them is the greatest. Oh, please. At least they had the decency to be embarrassed about it.

I have a tee shirt that says "Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve." Dr. King said that. He was a great leader, of course, and his is a household name. But he would not have been any kind of leader at all had it not been for the courage of those who followed him. He was brave, brave enough to risk his life many times, and finally to lose it. But so were they. Many of them risked their lives, too, and many lost their lives in their struggle for recognition of the equality they knew to be God-given.

Foot-soldiers. Helpers. We're not all generals. The success of any effort depends on the ability of the people undertaking it to put aside the noisy demands of their own egos. It is more important that we succeed than that I be highly esteemed. True of a follower and true of a leader, too: when a leader becomes entranced with his own reputation, things start going wrong. The community begins to identify itself with him, and he does, too. It is only a short distance from there to the conviction that what the leader wants is always the same thing as what is good. That we need look no further than to inquire what is the leader's will in making judgments about what we must do together. There are no checks on him, no other voice but his is heard, there is now no possibility of anyone's productively disagreeing with his plans. His followers are tragically relieved of their own moral agency: in the end, their only apology is what we have come to call the Nuremberg defense: "I was just following orders."

We must be willing to be last. We must look to serve, and find greatness in serving, greatness and great joy, as well. But we must also be willing to carry our own moral freight, and not sign it over to those who serve us as leaders. Everybody can be great. Everybody can serve. Everybody can think and ponder what is good and right. And everybody must.
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