In today's Gospel, Jesus contrasts two very different kinds of leadership, that which the Gentiles embrace and that which He expects His followers to practice. In doing so, He paints a picture of a true authority that follows in His footsteps.
Jesus begins with the negative definition of leadership. The Gentiles, He says, “lord it over” their subjects and “their great ones make their authority over them felt.” Examining the Greek text will give us a clearer image of this version of power. Jesus calls the Gentile rulers oi dokountes archeiv, literally, the ones who seem to rule. The word dokountes has connotations of appearance and self-deception. Gentile rulers think they are in control, and they appear that way to others. By using this word, however, Jesus is suggesting that their leadership is merely show. Their influence in the temporal realm is limited, and they have no power at all in the eternal kingdom.
Nevertheless, Gentile leaders do no hesitate to flaunt whatever authority they think they have. They “lord it over” their subjects. The Greek verb for this action is katakurieuousin, and it emphasizes the mastery of the rulers and the subjugation of those ruled, who are subdued under their leaders' control. Not a pleasant picture.
Jesus goes even further when He says that the “great ones” of the Gentiles “make their authority” over their subjects felt. The Greek verb for making authority felt is katexousiazousin. It refers to excessive and arbitrary authority. These leaders (we can assume that “great ones” is probably used sarcastically) desire full power over those they believe are lesser beings than they are, and they will use any means in their possession to attain it.
Followers of Christ are not to be followers of this model of leadership. Jesus makes that very clear. “But it shall not be so among you,” He tells His disciples.
Then He presents an alternative variety of leadership: “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant...”
The truly great are servants. The real leaders know the needs of their followers and strive to meet them. True rulers are humble enough to put other people ahead of themselves, to rule with love, to control with gentleness, and to desire the genuine well-being of those they lead. This is radical leadership.
But Jesus carries it even further: “whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” A slave. In Greek, doulos. This word refers to the lowest level of servitude in which the servant's will and abilities are completely at the service of another person.
True leaders, then, lay down their lives for those they rule. They place themselves in a position of humble servitude, dedicating themselves completely to others. They fulfill the requirements of their people with a faithful will and the full range of their talents and resources. Again, this is radical leadership.
Jesus Himself is our model for this radical form of leadership. He came to serve. He came to give Himself for the whole world. He came to die that we might live. He is a ruler. He is a servant. He is God. He is Man. And He calls us to follow Him as true servant leaders who guide others straight to Him.