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July 14, 2024
Risk-taking Witness

What makes a good leader? Confidence, compassion, or courage? Popularity and prestige? A quick Google search offers no shortage of books, articles, and classes on leadership. And it’s no wonder: organizations, communities, and entire governments depend on the abilities of those who step into decision-making roles. A good leader can inspire the masses and impact the world in profoundly positive ways, while a corrupt leader can cause entire systems to crumble, resulting in devastation for individuals and communities alike.

It turns out these concepts are not new. Scripture has much to say about the qualities of leaders and the consequences of their decisions. The Bible offers several stories of faithful leaders: those who think about what is best for the whole community, particularly the people who are most vulnerable. These kinds of leaders follow God’s call at great personal risk. John the Baptist is just one example.

Meanwhile, corrupt leaders are most concerned with self-preservation. They are governed by fear and greed, easily threatened by those on the margins. Herod finds himself in this position. While he may have been intrigued by John, saving his own reputation mattered more to him than John’s life. The result is nothing short of horrific, culminating with an innocent man’s head on a platter.

Our world is full of leaders who wield their power for their own benefit. But the good news is, God continues to call faithful leaders who pave the way with risk-taking, truth-telling witness. This type of leadership is not easy, and the personal risk is great. John’s story illustrates this in alarming ways. And yet, John’s story is not defined by his death—in Christ, his prophetic words and deeds echo through the ages. His impact lives on, calling us to the humble, compassionate way of Jesus.

So, what kind of leader will you be? And whom will you choose to follow?


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The Readings in the Bible

Mark 6:14-29

Mark tells in affecting details, later edited down by Matthew, the story of the death of John the Baptist. Verse 15 refers to the expectation of some Jews that Elijah or a definitive “prophet” would appear before the coming of the messiah. Mark, writing for a community that believes in Christ’s resurrection, disparages the idea that also John had been raised from the dead. Josephus recorded that Herod Antipas (4 bce–39 ce) had imprisoned John for preaching against what the gospel calls Herod’s adultery, albeit that Mark’s identification of the woman conflicts with other sources. By this narrative, Mark is foreshadowing the execution of Christ (see 6:29 and 15:46: “and laid it in a tomb”) and warning the early Christian community that their fervent preaching may lead to martyrdom. For Mark, “Elijah” has come in the person of John the Baptist.

Amos 7:7-15

Written in elegant Hebrew probably in the early part of the eighth century bce, the book of Amos is filled with the prophet’s condemnation of idolatry and social injustice. Amos, urging the northern tribes of Israel to reconnect with the southern tribes of Judah, calls God’s people to live justly with one another. In today’s excerpt, Amos describes a vision of God’s justice like a plumb line. However, the northerners, such as the priest Amaziah and King Jeroboam, reject him and his preaching.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Ephesians was probably written in the late first century as a general message to all the churches. Though written under Paul’s name, many scholars doubt his authorship; for example, because of a notably different vocabulary and a different use of the image of the body of Christ. This excerpt is a beautifully crafted and thorough creedal description of the Christian faith, cast as a prayer of thanksgiving to God. The unit contains some twenty-two catechetically important phrases

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