- Acts 2:42-47
- 1 Peter 2:19-25
- John 10:1-10
4 Easter, Year A
Main Text (Hover for Text)
We have observed that the gospels elucidate the phenomenon of mimesis, both negative mimesis and positive mimesis. The Johannine text juxtaposes both nicely here in chapter 10 using the images of the thief and the mugger (the pirate, the brigand) to illustrate the character of negative mimetic leadership and that of the shepherd to demonstrate the character of good mimetic leadership.
How do we get leadership from our text? There are many indicators. The first, and most direct, is the use of the ‘ego eimi’ in vs 7, both Wayne Meeks and T.F. Glasson have suggested that the figure of Moses as the shepherd-leader of Israel illuminates our text. The second concerns a potential background referent, Ezekiel 34 and the distinction between good and evil shepherds (= leaders). The third is the use of shepherd imagery in the New Testament for ecclesial leadership. Finally, the ‘mission’ or ‘purpose’ of the shepherd is made explicit (vs 10), agendas are revealed, plans are exposed and character is made plain. This is the stuff of leadership.
Literature on leadership abounds. In both secular and religious spheres, books on leadership proliferate faster than fruit flies. Bookstores have entire sections devoted to leadership and management. But rare is that book which in the end explicates leadership that is positively mimetic. Most leadership books assume competition to be a positive element in leadership; a competitive spirit is seen as essential to climbing the ladder of success. We confess (as semi-sports junkies) that there are certain aspects of competition that we fall prey to, that we enjoy. However, sports competition is just entertainment of that which permeates our culture, our lives, our very existence. So called healthy competition, a mimetic desiring to one-up by the rules grows alongside with and stems from the same origin as unhealthy competition, a mimetic desiring that doesn’t give a damn about the rules. You can see this in contemporary political rhetoric concerning the importance of being a country under ‘the rule of law’, that is regulating mimetic activity (into right and wrong, good and bad).
Yes, the mimetic mechanism is clear in sports. The desire to be better than the person opposite you, rivalry, and losers (scapegoats) are all evident. It is also clear in the democratic political process. It is just as clear in boardrooms and bedrooms. School, church, home, work, it really doesn’t matter, the competitive model is everywhere.
In America today we are experiencing a crisis of leadership. Sports have become defiled and plagued with scandal; politics is losing its luster and ethical lapses are devouring the politicians, CEO’s who wreak financial havoc for personal gain are being admitted to cozy surroundings in federal prisons. Our celebrities are featured on Page 1 especially when they ‘break the rules.’ All of our icons are falling or have fallen. Why? Because negative mimesis will inevitably lead to becoming a ‘thief and a robber.’ Both the one who sneaks in by night, the cat burglar, and also the one who takes what they want by force, both extremes are taken into account (the manipulator and the bully).
The good shepherd is not like either of these. The good shepherd is described in ‘feminine’ nurturing categories. Positive mimetic leadership is nurturing leadership. Positive mimetic leaders are there to assist the other to be the best they can be. They will not mind if the student becomes as they are or even greater (‘greater things than these shall you do’). Real leadership is about tending to the other, facilitating growth.
There are two tandem essays in the book Violence Renounced that are important background for our discussions of positive mimesis, Jim William’s ‘King as Servant, Sacrifice as Service: Gospel Transformations” and Willard Swartley’s “Discipleship and the Imitation of Jesus/Suffering Servant: The Mimesis of New Creation.” These essays explore the real differences in mimetic leadership and what authentic servant leadership would look like.
The good shepherd comes to bring life in its fullest, richest and deepest senses. The good shepherd ‘exists for the other’ (Bonhoeffer), and would even give their life for the sake of the other. The good shepherd does not take life but nurtures it. We have such a good shepherd who dwells with us and in us. Thanks be to God!
Dodd, following J.A.T. Robinson sees in John 10:10-5 the fusion of two Synoptic like parables. We should not be surprised for we have observed that the differences between the Synoptic and the Johannine portraits of Jesus are a matter of form and not content. That John should call this a paroimia, while the Synoptists prefer parabole, is an indication that we are dealing with a mashal(im) of Jesus.
Sir Edwin Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel, is essential reading on this passage. “Through the life and death of Jesus, Christians not only have life, but have it abundantly. This does not mean that they have life more richly than other people. Their life is different in kind; and it is abundant because it is life according to the will of God; and, in being the consequence of [God’s] action, it is measureless and unlimited.”
What kind of leaders do we follow? Who do we esteem, value or hold dear? Are our models competitive or serving? Whom do we desire to be like, to aspire to? Who is it that captivates our attention? Who do we find ourselves thinking about? When we answer these questions we will have already answered the question “what kind of leader are we?” The latter question is frequently the primary question asked in leadership books. It should be, instead, the second question for when it is put first the mimetic role of our own models (internal or external) is hidden from us.
Some sermon thoughts.
Lately, I have been called to model some different forms of leadership within the preaching sphere. I have lost count of the number of times that I have been told in preaching classes or preaching texts (I’ve read a lot of them because I sometimes teach homiletics in our local theological school.) that it is “inappropriate” for the preacher to bring too much of herself or himself into the pulpit. It is inappropriate for us as preachers to “draw attention to ourselves.”
I think this plays into the very mimetic trap into which we as “leaders” are constantly tempted to fall. We are not to talk about ourselves because we are to be one of the group, but one set apart in some ontological way (in other words, we are to become a model worthy of rivalry).
I am convinced, as I try to work out this understanding of violence and mimesis that I am called to break these molds of ministry, to break some rules.
And it pays.
I have taken to “witnessing” to the power of the Gospel in my own life, rather than resorting to cute or moving anecdotes about other people.
I have shared my pain, my need for the prayers and witness of my own congregation, and my trust than in them I will find the same strength they seek from me. I don’t do this every week, or even every other week, but when the text and my own prayers call for it.
And it pays.
I can only say that there is in our congregation a new excitement about the Gospel. People don’t always understand what it is I’m up to, but they like how church feels.
Try being the leader who isn’t caught in the mimetic web.