Recently, I had the privilege to witness the retirement of a man who had devoted forty years of his life to public service. I had worked under this man’s leadership for several years. I don’t know how many times I heard him complain about people being retired on the job. He always said that he would work diligently until the moment he left for the last time. And this he did. Even on his last day he did his best to conduct business as normal even though he was constantly interrupted by those who wanted to wish him well, snap a quick photo, and say their goodbyes.
At the end of his last day he made his way out of the building to the cheers of dozens of those who had worked under his leadership day in and day out for years. This crowd was made of union leaders, rookie officers, senior departmental staff, medical staff, and even the mayor himself who declared that a special day was to be observed in honor of this individual. I have never seen an exit like that and probably never will again. This struck me as a very rare thing. How could someone who made so many decisions that had a potential negative effect on others and that had intense disagreements with even those closest to him engender such respect and love from those same people?
After some consideration, I believe the answer lies in three things. One, he connected with people as people and not just employees. Two, he knew what his mission was, and he stuck to it. Three, he finished strong. I also noticed that these three qualities reflect the life of the Lord Jesus himself.
Jesus always saw people as individuals who had wants, needs, and passions. Jesus would look upon the multitudes and have compassion on them. He would feed them, heal them, and meet their every need. He was there to give them eternal hope but also to help with the immediate need. We can never forget that the best and worst of people are still people. They have private fears, hopes, needs, and dreams that others know nothing about. Do we care about people? Do we care enough to feed them, to love them when they insult us? Do we care enough to meet their needs even if they never believe as we do?
Jesus knew what his mission was. He knew why he came and what he had to do. He never wavered. Even when he was tired. Even when the leaders of his own people rejected him. Even when one of his most beloved inner circle turned against him he did not step back from his mission. Are you dedicated to the mission? Do you even have a mission? We are all here for a purpose. Will you embrace yours?
Lastly, Jesus finished strong. Even in suffering and death he did not back away from his mission. He even asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him because they did not know what they were doing. Even in his last breaths he was contending for us to the Father. It was because of us that he was sent. It was because of us that he died. And it was because of us that he endured to the end.
Watching the procession that I did this week, I couldn’t help but think of what Jesus’ entrance to the presence of the Father was like after he completed his mission for us. Human processions and ceremonies can be so impressive. But what was it like when the Son returned to the Father after redeeming mankind? My imagination is not enough to paint a picture worthy of that entrance.
I wonder how people would feel about me if I retired from my job today? What if I moved from my church? Would people celebrate me? Have I loved people because they are people and nothing more? Have a been faithful to my mission? Have I finished strong? Only time will tell if each of us live a life that is worthy to be celebrated. But somehow I suspect that if we love others, stick to our mission, and finish strong we’ll be on the right track.