In a memorable passage in St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus paints a picture of the reward that awaits those who are faithful to Him. “Be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them.” (Lk. 12:36-37)
Columban Sr. Redempta Twomey is the assistant editor of the Society’s The Far East magazine in Navan, Ireland.
The joy of the master overflows on to his servants and he, delighting in their ready vigilance, now becomes their servant. It is an image of an aproned God upturning the master/servant relationship as He joyfully attends to their needs. “Happy those servants if he finds them ready,” Luke says: Yes, but happy too is the master.
Service is the hallmark of one who truly loves. Service done willingly, without grumbling, done with a good heart, a cheerful attitude. God looks for readiness like that of those who waited for their master to return from the wedding feast. Again and again Jesus emphasized this way of humble and glad service. His own life was one of service, not lording it over anyone but reaching out to help them. “He emptied himself,” Paul wrote, “taking the form of a slave….He humbled Himself.” (Phil. 1:7) This must be our attitude, Paul urges, if we are to be disciples of Christ.
A tall order, especially in a time when, far from wanting to serve others, we feel it is our right to be served. How we bristle and feel affronted when we are ignored or brushed off by others. Notice how subtly we manipulate people, using them to bolster the fragile “I” that dominates my life.
“Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interest, but everyone for those of others.” We should do whatever has to be done, he says, without complaining or arguing. A tall order, especially in a time when, far from wanting to serve others, we feel it is our right to be served. How we bristle and feel affronted when we are ignored or brushed off by others. Notice how subtly we manipulate people, using them to bolster the fragile “I” that dominates my life. It may be a so-called helpful comment we make which lets the other know that our grasp of the issue or task is far better than theirs. Or notice how sour we can become when our helpfulness goes unappreciated.
Can it be that we are more intent on building up our ego, fashioning an ideal of a good neighbor than in helping someone? How easy it is to deceive ourselves, to do the right thing for the wrong reason! True service calls for sacrifice. All parents know this as they meet the demands of raising a family. As we give of our time and talents to others, the walls of selfishness begin to fall, and we are truly enriched. It is in giving that we receive; the less we look for in our giving the greater the recompense.
This is especially true in the realm of spiritual things. Many good people think to build up a bank account in heaven by the number of their prayers and sacrifices. The danger is that we focus on our works, like someone hoarding treasure, and in so doing we miss the essential, that poverty of spirit so necessary in any true spirituality.
In St. John’s Gospel we are given no story of Jesus offering bread and wine at the Last Supper. Instead, in an act of profound, humble service, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. At this most solemn moment, the last meal He would have with them, He wanted to impress on those gathered around the table that this is what it means to be a true disciple. “I have set you an example: you are to do what I have done for you.” (Jn. 13:15)
It is the final great teaching He imparts before this journey to Calvary. It is a teaching all too often forgotten by His followers down through the ages.
Lord, help us to learn from You and follow You today in love and service of others.
This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Columban Mission.