How do we select our leaders today? Most of the time, we examine the external qualities of a person. We are impressed by one who speaks eloquently, writes beautifully, is intellectually brilliant, has high emotional quotient, is good at organizing and has good public relations skills. Often, we also judge by the look and height of the person, his dressing, his background, race and even religion. This is why today, projecting a good image of oneself is very important if one is to get ahead in life. Actors, celebrities, political leaders and even religious leaders seek to make themselves acceptable to the public. We are concerned about how popular we are and how many like what we do or say. Very often, portrayal of some personalities are not real but merely virtual realities. Indeed, millions of dollars are spent on building their public persona in the media, cosmetic surgery to improve their physical image and video/film makers to create a perfect virtual reality of these celebrities.
This is why today much of what we see are fake. Many live double-lives. They are projected to be the ideal, perfect, handsome, flawless with all the desirable traits on earth. But we know that many of them hate themselves. They have deep insecurity issues, emotional and psychological problems. They pretend to be happy but they are not. They are very lonely. They have to project themselves to be the happiest people on earth, always beautifully dressed and moving in the right social circles. But they know that this is all an exaggeration. In their private life, they want to dress simply, live simply and they seek genuine friendship and love. They are desperate to be loved for who they truly are and not what people expect of them.
Such exaggeration is not new; it is as old as the Church. In the lives of the saints, we tend to portray them as almost perfect in their way of life, without any flaws or imperfections. They are presented in such heroic terms that they also become our perfect models. Of course, the difference is that the saints are presented not in worldly terms but in their virtues. They are meant to inspire us. So much so, most of us feel that we cannot be like them. We say, “we are not saints” when we are called to defend our weaknesses. What we mean is that we are not perfect like the saints. Thus, today, saints are not presented in their perfection but only those qualities that shine out in that saint.
But in truth, God does not choose perfect people to be his leaders. As the Lord told Samuel, “Take no notice of his appearance or his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.” Indeed, Samuel like most of us, tend to judge from the outside. He had already made his first mistake in choosing Saul because he was tall and handsome. In view of his height, standing tall above others, he thought Saul would be a good leader to fight the Philistines who were known for their height. But Saul was insecure of his position, suspicious of his competitors, jealous and envious. He disobeyed God and made presumption of how God should be worshipped. His heart was not with God or with the people of Israel. It was about himself.
Samuel who supported him was even seen as a threat to his position, so much so when the Lord asked Samuel to go and anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next king, he was fearful of risking his life. “Samuel replied, ‘How can I go? When Saul hears of it he will kill me.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and then I myself will tell you what you must do; you must anoint to me the one I point out to you.” So God helped him to find an excuse to go and anoint the son of Jesse as king. He made it appear to be just a sacrifice for some offences committed.
But Samuel, just like us, never learnt his lesson. We cannot accept imperfections in our leaders. Samuel was grieving over God’s disappointment of Saul. The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you go on mourning over Saul when I have rejected him as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen myself a king among his sons.” Then when he was with Jesse, he was still looking for someone like Saul, tall and handsome. “He caught sight of Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed one stands there before him.’”‘ Indeed, in our relationships, how often have we tended to replace one failed relationship with another who looks just like our lost love, only to have it turn out to be worse than the previous one. We have an image of who is good and perfect for us.
But God’s choice is often beyond our logical selection. He chose David, the youngest who was like a shepherd boy. He must have been thought to be insignificant by his father and hence was not present for the sacrificial meal. But the Lord said, “‘Come, anoint him, for this is the one.’ At this Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him where he stood with his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on.” Indeed, that has always been the case in previous choices. He chose Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over the rest of his brothers, Moses over Aaron. These people were not perfect either. Jacob was a cheat, Joseph was boastful and egoistic, Moses was impatient and temperamental.
King David, although the ideal King of Israel, was not perfect either. He committed adultery and murdered Bathsheba’s husband. He disobeyed God by calling for a census of his army. Against the conception of the religious leaders that to be saved, observance of the Law to the detail was paramount, and even higher than the Prophets and the Writings, Jesus used the example of King David who, when fleeing for his life, broke the law by taking the consecrated bread from the tabernacle meant only for the priests to consume. But that was not the worst sin. He lied to Ahimelech, the high priest then, that he was on a secret mission sent by Saul. When Saul found out, he thought Ahimelech helped David to escape and had all the 85 priests slaughtered. (cf 1 Sm 21) So his lie caused the death of the entire tribe in Nob.
Yet, God chose him because He knew that he had a good heart. He was weak when it came to lust. But when his mistake was pointed out by the prophet Nathan, he confessed humbly and accepted the punishment of God. He sought to walk the ways of the Lord. He spent hours composing psalms to glorify Him. David remained the ideal king even though he broke the law and caused his men to suffer because he disobeyed the Lord in calling for a census. As a consequence, seventy thousand of his men died from the pestilence. He learnt his lesson and he repented. God accepted his weakness and forgave him.
In the New Testament, Jesus chose the Twelve apostles who were certainly not from the intelligentsia or the elite class. St Paul wrote, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor 1:26-30) Indeed, the apostles were seen to be fighting for position and power. They were impatient. They betrayed our Lord and abandoned Him when He was arrested. Yet, God chose them all the same. Because God had something greater for them. This was true also in the case of St Paul.
God chose people like Peter and Paul, who were weak so that they could be strong in Him. So too, we do not choose perfect leaders the way the world chooses its leaders. We need to choose those with a good heart, are sincere, humble, loving and caring. If they have a heart for the people and piety for the Lord, they will do well. God will give them His spirit, and being humble, God will send them people to help them to accomplish the mission given to them.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online nor will they be available via email request.