The readings of the day can be found here.
I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving, and that you feel refreshed and ready to complete the semester. It’s a special time of year.
For me, the holiday season brings a sense of nostalgia and stirs many fond memories from my childhood. Although my own Christmas Story did not involve getting a tongue stuck to a flag pole or a Red Rider Rifle, the memories are as vivid as Jean Shepard’s performance of little Ralphie (Here’s the link to the movie, for those of you haven’t seen the continuous play of Christmas day re-runs on TBS!). As a student in a Catholic grade school, I celebrated Mass on Sundays and throughout the week. During this time of year, I remember the purple stoles our Pastor would wear and the beautiful wreath of purple and pink candles that were lit each week at Mass. The candles would glow, creating a majestic hue that sparkled along the ornate statues in the nativity scene. Christmas trees, holly, and other decorations were placed throughout the church. Of course, as a kid, learning about the advent season happened amidst the competing promise of presents under a Christmas tree and the hustle and bustle of holiday parties, decorating cookies, writing lists, and showing only my best behavior.
I am too old for “Elf on the Shelf,” but the vision of Santa watching made it really easy for me to obey and put on my best self during that time.
And then I became a teenager. Obeying at face value became more challenging as the world seemed more grey than black and white. (Later I learned that psychologists call this Piaget’s Formal Operations Stage of cognitive development.) Even though I was a pretty straight and narrow kid, I did my fair share of rebelling and questioned the necessity to follow anyone -- even my parents and other authority figures. As an adult, the concept of obedience and followership has become more complex, especially as I studied leadership.
In this week’s gospel, Matthew describes Jesus’s interaction with the Centurion and how Jesus acknowledges the Centurion’s faith. Jesus was amazed at how readily the Centurion followed him. The Centurion said “I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me.” In reflecting on the readings, I realized that the Centurion wasn’t following Jesus just because someone was watching or to earn a reward. The Centurion didn’t rebel or question authority just because he could. Instead, the Centurion acknowledged the complexity of leadership. He was following Jesus so that he, too, could serve others, in particular his servant who was suffering. The Centurion recognized Jesus for serving others, too. The Centurion showed compassion, empathy, and awareness, just as Jesus displayed.
This example of Servant Leadership is the type of obedience and followership that I aspire to. Servant Leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first” (Greenleaf, 1997, 2002, p. 27). At SLU, serving others, whether it be students, patients, community members, or each other, is the part of the mission that draws many of us to the University.In closing and in honor of little Ralphie from the Christmas Story, I would like to triple-dog-dare you (I know, it’s “the coup de grace of all dares!”) to think about how you obey and follow as you serve others this Advent season and beyond.
Dr. Stephanie Mooshegian is Chair and Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies.