Brother sister let me serve you
let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
to let you be my servant too
A catchy tune with simple lyrics. So, what does it really mean to serve one another?
It seems as if Peter and the other disciples are still having trouble getting their heads around what it means to be a disciple. They still can’t accept Jesus’ true identity and what his mission is. Jesus has just predicted his death for the second time. Again, they don’t understand what he is talking about and are too afraid to ask. Instead, they start on a completely different topic, arguing among themselves about who is the greatest! They are busy worrying about status while Jesus is about to undergo a horrific death! They sound like school children!
So, what provoked the argument? Was it purely an avoidance tactic because Jesus’ talk of death was too hard to think about? Sometimes we too don’t want to ask questions about difficult topics because talking about the issue only makes it more real. So, we just try and deny it by any means.
James spells out some of the issues the disciples may have been dealing with— jealousy and ambition. His solution — the wisdom that comes from God resulting in kindness, compassion, peace, holiness, sincerity and good works. We see people who model some of these virtues in the Sunday evening TVOne programme called ‘Good Sorts.’ The ‘Good Sorts’ are not the rich and famous, they are not seeking the limelight or any form of power. They are trying to serve others.
Both the first and second readings follow the biblical Wisdom tradition which usually describes two paths to follow: the way of the wicked or foolish and the way of the virtuous or wise. The person described in the first reading is virtuous and gentle. But his very goodness challenges his opponents’ behaviour to such an extent that they set out to destroy him. They care nothing about helping or serving others or being ‘good sorts.’
I have a cousin who every evening at the meal table asks her five adopted children how they helped someone that day. They are learning what it means to serve. Their status as children is very different from the status of children at the time of Jesus who were considered equal to slaves. They had no standing; they had no voice and they were incredibly vulnerable.
By putting his arms around a child Jesus was trying to show the disciples in really concrete ways who he is, i.e., the one who is least among us, the most vulnerable and who has come to serve. Jesus tells them that if they want to be first, if they want to be leaders, they must be the servant of all. Jesus identifies himself with a child and then, also with God! What if we imagined the Afghan children now in our midst in Wellington to be the child Jesus embraced? That they are the face of Jesus for us today? That as disciples it is our task to serve them? That if we welcome and serve them, we are welcoming and serving Jesus? And, in welcoming and serving Jesus we are welcoming and serving God!
Jesus told the disciples that must be the servant of all — not just some. What if we were to include our common home in our understanding of ‘all’.
What would happen if we were to behave as servants of the land, the rivers, the oceans, the lakes, the forests, the sky, the plants, the animals, the birds, the fish, all the endangered species, etc? What if we imagined they were all people, all our sisters and brothers and that they all had a voice? What would they ask us to do for them? How would they want us to serve them?
So, let’s take some time this week to listen to our common home with all our senses. Maybe we will hear its various elements cry. Let’s listen to the voice of the Afghan children now among us and see there the face of Jesus. The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are connected and we are called to be servants of both.