“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Matt 20:27
The story of the mother of James and John, Jesus’ disciples, coming to him and requesting that her sons be given a special seat in his kingdom is quite intriguing.
The former AT&T executive, MIT and Harvard Business School lecturer, Robert K. Greenleaf, back in 1977 coined the term servant leadership,1 supposedly a new paradigm of management. At least ten characteristics of servant leadership are considered to be of critical importance:
To be able to listen; empathize; bring healing; to have awareness; to be persuasive while not being coercive; to be able to conceptualize things; to have foresight; to be a good steward; to be committed to the growth of people; and to be able to build community.2
However, let’s look briefly at the first three characteristics mentioned by John Correlli:
1. Listening is at the heart of servant leadership. If a team member’s talking, give them your full focus and attention—no interruption allowed! It’s a simple way to make your team feel valued so they know you care.
2. Empathy: A lot goes into empathy, but when it comes to servant leadership, it basically comes down to getting to know your team. Find out what makes them tick, and learn their strengths and weaknesses. That way you can let your team members shine and maybe even help them turn their weaknesses into strengths.
3. Healing: Some team members may come to you from a previous job that had a really toxic work environment—and you have the privilege to help them heal. Don’t worry: it’s not as hard as it sounds. Healing is as simple as creating a healthy work environment that has work-life balance built in. It’s also about giving people the tools they need to succeed so they feel like a valued member of the team.3
I like Jesus’ take: whosoever will be chief, just be a servant.4
So her name is Salome.5 Matthew writes about her:6
‘Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons… desiring a certain thing.’
Who was this woman? In the land of my birth, Trinidad, we would say, ‘who was this boldfaced woman?’ Indeed, she was forward and forthright. Tradition has Salome as the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Therefore, this would make her Jesus’ auntie. If so, she might have felt that she was within her rights to make such a request. In addition, it seems that she had ‘privilege.’ In Mark 1:20, it was suggested that Zebedee had a little money—he had hired servants. Whatever the case, this request made the other disciples upset. Naturally.
‘And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.’7
But any noble mother wants to see their children do well and advance. Can Salome be faulted? Jesus asked her when she came, ‘What wilt thou?’ Which could be translated, ‘what do you want?’ He entertained her request. And when her question was asked he told her, ‘you don’t know what you’re asking for.’
We could consider her to be naïve; nevertheless, later in Matthew’s gospel, Salome is found at the foot of the cross, at the crucifixion of Jesus.
She continued following Jesus, regardless of the answer he gave.8
Here are a few questions, as we consider the value of ‘Servant Leadership:’
What is nepotism? And is there ever a place for it?
What is privilege? Should it ever be used?
An even more important question might be:
What are our requests?
Salome wanted to see her sons elevated. In essence Jesus asked, ‘You want them to be elevated? Then let them learn to be servants.’
Do you have a request that you’d like to make on behalf of someone?
Jesus, save my child? Jesus help my daughter to find a good husband? Jesus help my son to stay focused on his schoolwork and to do well academically? Just a few. Will God force the hand of another person? Sure, we can make requests, but at the end of the day, each of us has a choice to make. And so, I pray that each of us would make the right choices, including to serve!
Following Christ is not about seeking a position, or a title. It’s about service. We’re all called to do it. There’s no special job requirement to be helpful. Find a way to serve and when we do, we’d be wise to follow “Greenleaf’s principles.”
A Prayer for Today
Father, help us to find joy in serving others. As we make our requests known to you, we recognize that You already know everything about us. You desire to save each of us. Thank you for the opportunities you provide for us to be of service. Help us to grasp these opportunities as they come. Give us the strength and wisdom to make good choices. And bless us as we seek to follow your example. We pray this prayer through your Son, who died on the cross for us all.
1 Servant Leadership, A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Robert K. Greenleaf
2 and 3 Summarized by John Correlli, Co-Founder of TeamGantt. TeamGantt.com
4 Matthew 20:27
5 Mark 15:40
6 Matthew 20:20
7 Matt 20:24
8 Matt 27:56
Devotional based on Matthew 20: 20-28.