Steve Jobs said ” Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” So true. Most of us are far too comfortable with mediocrity or “that’s good enough.” Because of this, we get a life that never is pressed to discover its potential, the possibilities. What a waste.
And yet, because we are so comfortable with mediocrity, excellence feels threatening. In the face of these feelings, many react negatively and even attempt to shame excellence as “prideful” or “not the way we do things.” But the greater challenge is even recognizing excellence or strong leadership in the first place. Fortunately, we Orthodox don’t have to wonder about such things. Our “yardstick” is clear as day – it’s Jesus Christ. He is the measure of excellence, leadership, and truly human life.
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 12:10-19:
BRETHREN, for the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these superlative apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!
Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by guile. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.
St. Paul is dealing with some very vocal critics in Corinth. They are accusing him of manipulating them and scolding them because he held them accountable for some serious moral failures in the community, the chaos of their worship services, and the sad and shameful way the poor were ignored at their community feasts. Some of the leaders in Corinth accused Paul of not being a true apostle anyway since he wasn’t one of the original 12.
So, and I love how Paul does this, St. Paul displays the marks of true apostleship (“apostle” means “sent one”) by embracing this criticism and turning it back on his accusers with the facts. He even admits he’s been forced by this criticism to become “a fool” because now he has to list out his qualifications when it should have been his spiritual children who received so much from him to do this on his behalf. What a crushing lack of gratitude that puts Paul in this situation!
First, Paul embraces weakness instead of worldly strength. Because he wants to mimic the leadership of Jesus Christ, Paul knows that his weakness allows for God’s strength to show through him. In fact, he allows that his weaknesses are just another avenue for God’s grace to display God’s love for anyone and everyone. God uses broken people because, well, that’s pretty much all He has to work with, after all.
Second, Paul (reluctantly) rehearses how God used him in spreading the Faith there. Notice the level of embarrassment Paul seems to feel when he has to defend his “apostleship” to the Corinthian critics. He reminds them that the “proof is in the pudding.” The grace displayed in his ministry to the Gentiles was impossible to miss. And he points out that the only real difference between him and the other leaders is that he didn’t “burden” them. Guess what that means: It means he didn’t raise any money to support himself. He worked as a tentmaker in the area to support himself while he ministered to the Corinthians. And he apologizes for doing this because it ended up hurting the spiritual growth of the believers there. They took him for granted! Ingratitude always reveals serious blindness and always leads to spiritual illness. Always. Every time!
Finally, St. Paul reminds these critics that no one has taken advantage of them. And he tells them all this for their benefit, not his. You see the great tragedy of leadership is the greatest blessings of good leadership are always enjoyed by those who are led.
Today, do you see the signs of loving leadership in your leaders? If not, pray for them. But if you do, take the time to say “thank you” and “can I help.” Too many leaders hear “well, you chose this life so get used to it” and feel their hearts sink thinking they are all alone. Be grateful to God for good leaders and be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. Dear Lord, forgive us for being so inattentive and ungrateful. We force our spiritual fathers to justify our love and support when we should be so grateful we show our gratitude through our thankfulness. Please help us wake up to the power of gratitude to form us to become like You. Amen