"The thing you are doing is not right!"
Jethro, the priest of Midian told his son-in-law Moses,
earthly liberator of his people, the Israelites,
a task he accomplished only in partnership with God
and with his brother Aaron, appearing before Pharaoh
again and again
declaring that Pharaoh must let the Israelites go.
Now they had journeyed into the wilderness.
and Jethro came to visit his family.
What was it that Moses was not doing right
that Jethro felt he had to point out?
Moses was sitting in judgment over the people
all by himself
all on his own.
Perhaps Jethro said to himself some ancient version of
the phrase “Do I hear…burnout?”
He knew that Moses probably felt that if he held on to this task,
it would be done right.
But Jethro had another idea for his son-in-law.
As Jethro saw Moses moving towards certain exhaustion, he said,
“You will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well.
Your task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
Let me give you counsel:
You shall seek out from among all the people capable individuals
who revere God – trustworthy people who spurn
ill-gotten gain (and therefore cannot be unduly influenced or swayed).
Have them bring every major dispute to you,
but let them decide every minor dispute themselves
If you do this, you will be able to bear up.”
Jethro reminded Moses
that he didn’t have designated elders for nothing,
chosen leaders of the people.
Moses could take on a new approach
where he didn’t need to rely only on himself.
And – he needed to let go of the idea
that he was the only one who could lead and do it right.
Moses needed to trust that someone else might do a task
as well as he could.
Jethro assured him that he wasn’t giving up
all of his responsibility
as a judge of his people, reminding Moses
that he had set a good example of living by values
that others could follow.
So – the leaders who had personal fortitude and staying power
who revered God
who could be trusted
who would be impartial and wise in their decisions
would be paying tribute to Moses every time they judged between two people in a dispute and
were able to resolve it fairly and peacefully.
This lesson in delegation allowed Moses
to save some of his spirit and energy
For the most important task of all to which he was committed
taking the people forward
teaching them what it meant to be free
demonstrating how all members of the community
were now responsible for each other.
They had won their right to live free from the taskmasters of Egypt
by believing in God and in Moses’ leadership.
Now their challenge was to be worthy of the commandments
that they were about to receive.
Those commandments would be proclaimed to them in the singular
not the plural.
Every person was to feel that God was talking directly to him or her
when each person would eventually hear – I am the Eternal Your God – you shall not murder - you shall not steal – you shall not covet.
In fact, Moses did have to let go
to enable the people find themselves as free individuals
and to grow into their personal relationships with God and with each other.
Only that way would they own their belief in God, their love for God, and their trust of one another.
And so, whenever we serve as leaders,
May we remember that leadership can mean letting go of individual tasks that still may be important
In order that we can create a strong foundation
on which a community can move forward
With hope and confidence
as it seeks to find its own promised land.