Shirking Responsibility

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”

Exodus 32:24

Exodus 32 reveals that the idea of making an image to represent the “gods” originated with the Israelites. But, thereafter, Aaron enthusiastically led this idolatrous effort. He summoned the people to provide gold for the golden calf, which he formed from their contributions (32:4). Aaron also built an altar for sacrifices and instigated the festival filled with pagan revelry. He failed in his leadership as Moses’ colleague and Israel’s high priest, not only by not keeping the people from doing wrong, but also by leading the charge into grievous sin.

But when Moses challenged Aaron to account for what he had done, Aaron showed himself to be a poor leader by shirking responsibility for his actions. He blamed the evil of the people (32:22). They had asked him to make an idol because Moses had disappeared (32:33). Finally, Aaron claimed that the golden calf had magically emerged from the fire, rather than admitting that he had formed this calf himself (32:24).

A strong leader must take responsibility, not only for guiding his or her followers into what is right, but also for owning failures in leadership. Every leader fails. Better leaders fail often because they are risk-taking visionaries who run a greater risk of failure. The best leaders take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them. Aaron fell far short of the high watermark for leadership.

His behavior is common, though. Too often we hear our leaders trying to explain their way out of trouble with unconvincing spin. Yet it’s not just political and religious leaders who try to bend the truth to get out of trouble. Recently, I made a mistake in disciplining my daughter. When I undid my error, my first thought was to guard my pride, rather than tell the truth that “I blew it.” Evading responsibility for one’s mistakes is as old as Adam and Eve (see Gen. 3). Yet the wise leader, and, indeed, the mature Christian, confesses the truth, asking for forgiveness and learning invaluable lessons from failure.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever done something like Aaron when confronted with your failure? Why? Can you think of mistakes from which you have learned? Are there any failures you need to acknowledge and learn from now?

PRAYER: O Lord, I can sure relate to Aaron. He messed up big time in his leadership of the Israelites. But when confronted by Moses, he tried to weasel out of responsibility for his actions. Lord, you know how I’m tempted to do this and how many times I have given in to temptation. Forgive me, Lord, for my failure to acknowledge my failures.

Moreover, help me to have the courage to admit when I am wrong. May my leadership—at work, in my family, at church, and beyond—be grounded in the truth. Give me the courage to own my failures and the wisdom to learn from them.

Also, I ask that you help me to foster an environment where the acknowledgement of failure is accepted without shame. May this be true especially in my workplace and in my family. Help me to help those with whom I work and live to say, “Yes, I was wrong.” Amen.