The Master’s Apprentice

Business people could learn a lot about management from Jesus. He wasn’t just a carpenter; he was a craftsman who knew something about planning a project. Good planning requires wisdom, which is the theme of today’s readings.

Poor planning and unwise decisions are the reasons businesses—and people—fail.  A major tenet of business is to have a succession plan. Many of today’s business people are complaining about a lack of young talent available to fill voids left by the retiring Baby Boomers in their ranks. In fact The Wall Street Journal recently reported that CEOs are flocking to business schools to snatch up MBA students and put them to work immediately. The schools don’t like this because they say these kids just aren’t ready for such responsibility. They may not even be sure an MBA is what they want yet. These headhunters want the schools to do all the prep work so they can buy talent right off the shelf. But unless they take responsibility for preparing these young people themselves, they’ll never get the disciplined managers they need. What both the employers and the employees need are a business plan and an apprenticeship program.

Jesus had a hands-on plan for building his kingdom, and he chose his apprentices wisely. His raw material was really raw, but he saw quality in them and knew that through his apprenticeship program he could sand away the rough edges and reveal the true quality and beauty that lay beneath their thick hides.  His 12 apprentices laid the foundation that supports the church we have today.

In today’s gospel reading from Luke, Jesus, like most master builders, lays out the importance of planning a tower—equating it to designing one’s life. “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion. Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘this one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”

Jesus’ apprentices were his resources, and they went on to continue the Lord’s work after he left it in their hands. Today’s second reading shows Paul, one of Christ’s later but hugely influential apprentices, in his later years—with an apprentice of his own–Onesimus. He’d like to hang onto this kid to make his own life easier, but he knows that this apprentice needs to take on bigger, more important jobs—so he releases him back to Philemon to become, not a freed slave, but a brother and a “man in the Lord.”

The Kingdom of God is still a work in progress for each of us. But our teacher trained us well, and like Paul, we must conduct “train the trainer” sessions with our own apprentices—then release them to the world to make it a better place than the one we’ll leave behind.


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