Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Anxiety and Leadership

Daily Readings
Psalm 64 + Numbers 11 + Deuteronomy 4 + Matthew 20

Verse for the Day
• For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:7, 8

Daily Text Numbers 11:1-3, 10-15

Now when the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, the LORD heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the LORD burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire abated. 3So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned against them. 10Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the LORD became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the LORD, "Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!' 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once--if I have found favor in your sight--and do not let me see my misery."

Anxiety and Leadership
Moses was no exception. All leaders face times of heart-wrenching anxiety. Simply put, leadership is almost impossible. There is a saying that “Leadership is its own reward.” That is probably true, but it is only one side of a truth. The other side is that it is not only difficult, at times it consumes one. This was one of those times for Moses. His anguish is startlingly revealed and the rabbis wrestled much with his ‘sin’ in being so radical in his demand on God—anguished enough to want to die in order to have it over with. But this anguish was between Moses and God. The difference between great leadership and failed leadership is that the leader who fails bares this anxiety to his or her people. The people begin to see and internalize the leader’s anxiety and lose respect for the leader. Moses takes it to God and God, whether it was through Jethro (or Hobab, Exodus 18, Numbers 10:29) or from God directly appointed 70 elders, or 72, depending on how you count, to assist him in leading this people. Reinforced by God’s provision of quail promised by Moses, the people settled in once again behind their leader, Moses.

This is one of those many places where the details of the text do not mesh, for the people had meat always, cattle and goats and sheep, all of which they were sacrificing, and presumably eating. So what was the issue? The rabbis concluded that they were missing a life of moral freedom, immoral might be a better way of saying it, that they had enjoyed in Egypt even as slaves. Now in the wilderness they were captive to this God who demanded purity of life for continued favor. Oh, there may also have been a craving for more variety in their foodstuffs, but there must have been more to it and the above is a good guess. It also explains more of Moses’ struggle, for he is the one who has mediated this standard of justice and its companion, righteousness. How difficult it is for us to live righteously. We thrive within it and we long to break out—and do! Notice how often this theme of rebellion against the One God comes up in the Torah and in the Prophets and in the New Testament. No wonder sound leadership is so difficult and so rare. In this story, God’s sympathy is on a short tether; thank goodness, his love and mercy are steadfast and judgement for his people is discipline and not revenge.

The Lord is My Portion
Judah Ha-Levi

Servants of time, lo! these be slaves of slaves;
But the Lord’s servant hath his freedom whole,
Therefore, when every man his portion craves,
“The Lord God is my portion,” saith my soul.


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