Servants to All
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26). Do you want to be great? I hope so. Our Lord in no way forbids that desire. In fact, He encourages it in a number of His teachings on the Kingdom of God, telling us that the highest and most prominent places are reserved to the humble, the childlike, to those who will assume the status of servant to all.
The word service is easily misunderstood in our commercial culture. We hear it usually in connection with customer service, car repair (a service station), or the services offered at hotels and restaurants. And then there is our cultural “favorite”: self-service. It all boils down to keeping a customer or oneself happy. Service is not so inspiring if understood in this restricted way.
The Missionaries of Charity, founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (liturgical memorial September 5), take a fourth vow in addition to poverty, chastity, and obedience that helps explain everything: Wholehearted, free service to the poorest of the poor. That’s our clue. Since Mother Teresa had the “mind of Christ,” her intuition here means a lot (see 1 Cor 2:16).
Christian service does not only mean giving something to another, but giving of yourself, wholeheartedly, after the example of Christ, who emptied Himself and took the form of a slave. Our hearts have to be engaged when we serve one another, which is a way of saying: Love your neighbor as Christ has loved you—with the entirety of His heart.
We might share a lot in common with the aspirations of the mother of Saints James and John, whose request prompted the Lord’s teaching above (see Mt 20:20-28). She understandably wants the best for her sons, but she is not thinking about service. And we must admit that, when we are selfish, we often want the best for ourselves—not what is worst, inconvenient, or humbling, but that which is comfortable and flattering. Yet we know that’s not good enough for people who are truly called to be great in the eyes of God.
Grace draws us to love the ideal of generosity. The image of the saints serving the poor, the needy, the outcast, strikes a chord within us, whether it be the example of St Martin of Tours, St Francis of Assisi, or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Our baptism draws us to it, because we belong to Christ the Servant. His blood is in us; His Spirit we share. We share the desires of Him who emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, for our sake (see Philippians 2:7).
We are all inspired by the spectacle of Jesus Christ bending His knees before the Apostles and, with great care, washing their feet. As Christians, our vocation is reflected in Christ’s actions as He must be reflected in ours. What He is by nature, we must be by grace: children of God, brethren of Christ, servants to all.
For one who is thoroughly imbued with the calling to be Christ as servant, there is no question about one’s identity. Such a one is always looking for ways in which he may serve, which is to say, ways in which to love. Isn’t God always “looking” for ways to serve us and to love us?
We can question ourselves on this point and ask how often we have come up short in serving God and neighbor. We know that sometimes we are simply tired or do not want to be bothered, or we have our plans and schedules which no one may interfere with.
We must work in an orderly, efficient way, making good use of our time, but always keeping in mind this fact: it is God’s work that we do. We are His servants from beginning to end. And the servant is always available to his Master, with a heart ready to give, ready to be truly great in His Kingdom.
These spiritual reflections are brought to you by Father John Henry Hanson, O.Praem., a Norbertine priest of St Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California. He and his community contribute to the work of Aid to the Church in Need.