There once was a great chief who was very proud.
One day he was walking through his village boasting to any one passing by: “I am truly great. There is no one greater than me!”
A wise old woman came up to the chief and said: “I know one who is truly great.”
The great chief was surprised and then very angry. “What? Who is this great one? There is no one greater than me!”
The wise old woman said, “Come to my house tomorrow when the sun is at the highest point in the sky and I will introduce you to this great.”
The chief said: “Very well. I will be there and we shall see who is the greatest.”
And the chief went about his business. But at the end of the day, he decided he should prepare for the next day’s encounter just as he would for any potential battle. So, he went to bed early to gain strength. Because he was very confident of his skills and his position he slept like a baby and woke up alert and refreshed. Ready for whatever the day would bring.
In the morning he prepared himself carefully and put on his finest clothing. As he did, he reminded himself of all the great things that he could do. At the appointed time he headed off to the old woman’s tent. As he walked, he repeated over and over to himself: “There is no one greater than me! There is no one greater than me!”
When he reached the woman’s house he called out: “Old woman, I am here. It is time. Show me this other chief!”
“Come in, come in,” the woman said.
When the chief entered the old woman’s house, he saw her sitting against the wall, with a baby crawling around on the floor beside her. He was confused. He looked around but there was no one else there!
“Where is the great chieftain you told me about yesterday? The one who is greater than me?” he asked. The old woman motioned toward the baby on the floor and said, “This is the great one I told you about.”
The great chief was not amused. He huffed and he puffed and then pointed his finger at the woman he yelled: “What do you mean? Don’t try and trick me. This is just a baby!”
But his loud voice and the sudden noise startled the baby and it began to cry. The chief stopped yelling but the child continued to cry. The chief became flustered. He didn’t mean to make the baby cry.
Forgetting about his anger he got down on his hands and knees and tried to comfort the child but the child kept on crying. So, the chief pulled his eagle and hawk feathers from his hair and tickled the baby’s cheeks with them. The baby continued to cry.
He pulled off his medicine bags and held them under the baby’s nose. The crying softened but the child still cried.
Soo, he pulled off his necklaces and jingled them in the baby’s ears. Gradually the baby stopped crying, curled up by the great chieftain and the two played together on the floor.
The old woman smiled and said, “You see, even you, the great chief, had to stop talking to take care of the baby. In any home, in any village, the baby is truly the greatest because even the greatest and most powerful chief, like you, must become the baby’s servant. This is how the creator planned it. The creator did not make you great so that you could boast about your greatness. The Creator made you great so that you could help others who are not as strong as you.”
And from that day on no one ever heard the chief boast again.
By the time we meet David in our scriptures today, he is already on his way to becoming a great king – the best king that Israel would ever have. He had expanded the nation. He had reunited the Northern and Southern tribes into one nation. Israel was doing well. As we see in our reading, David had been appointed king by God but he was also chosen by the people. Together they made a covenant stating that.
It is however, good to remember that the Holy never wanted Israel to be ruled by kings. They had the Holy, that should have been enough. However, the people saw that all the nations around them had kings. They wanted to have what their neighbours had! So, the Holy conceded to their request.
But it is interesting, the king whom the Holy chose would be a different kind of king. David was a shepherd. He would be a shepherd king. Shepherds walk with their folk, tend them, ensure they have food and shelter and that they are kept healthy. The ideal Jewish king is a servant king. This is quite a difference from the neighbouring kings who rely on their people to pay them taxes, feed them, fight for them – basically serve them! This is basically the same model that Jesus lives by. He too leads by serving the people not being served by them.
To paraphrase Hubert Humphrey, the moral test of the government lies in how well they treat the least: the children, the elderly, the needy and people with disabilities. Or as novelist Pearl Buck wrote: “… the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”
We have just celebrated our countries birth. For the first time in my memory, we have had to struggle with the idea of whether we should celebrate given our treatment of the Indigenous peoples of this land, particularly their children. As we struggle with our history, both good and bad, we must decide how we wish to move into our future. It is my hope that we learn the true secret of great leadership from the Great Chief – those of us with power are to use it in the service of the children!