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Growing up, I vaguely recall that my brother and I would make little bets here and there. Whoever would lose the bet would have to be the other one’s “servant” for awhile. It meant that one of us would have to do the chores of the other one or get a drink for them or give them candy or whatever else along those lines. I remember that it was tons of fun having the servant, but not being the servant.
My thoughts on this have changed over the years. To me, serving others feels good. Serving others is satisfying. Serving with a joyful heart makes it even more rewarding. It’s certainly not as enjoyable when one is forced to serve and it isn’t fulfilling when the serving isn’t done with love. Also, much of the joy is taken away if one serves, expecting something in return.
There is a song that we sometimes sing in church that is appropriately called, The Servant Song by Richard Gillard. A few of the verses really speak to me: “Will you let me be your servant? Let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too. We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road. We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load. I will hold the Christ-light for you in the nighttime of your fear. I will hold my hand out to you; speak the peace you long to hear.”
As a child, I used to think that being the servant was the raw end of the deal. As I reflect on the words of this song as well as a story that Father Bentil shared at Mass this weekend, I realize that being the servant is actually the better end of the deal.
Here’s the story he shared:
A long time ago, there was a man who wanted to achieve greatness. The man thought that he could work toward his goal of greatness by standing guard at the door of the king’s palace in full armor, with a sword.
Day after day, month after month, and year after year, the man stood guard at the palace entrance, proudly standing there, longing for greatness. One day, a blind woman passed by the palace as she was taking her apples to the market in a wooden wheelbarrow. She didn’t see the large crack in the street, so as she rolled over it, her wheelbarrow turned over and all of her precious apples spilled out. As she attempted to gather her apples, the man just stood there in his armor and didn’t offer to help her.
Years went by and a crippled old man with a walking stick passed by the man guarding the king’s palace. As the old man passed by, his walking stick broke and he fell in front of the palace. The guard just stood there, not offering a hand to the old man.
Several more years went by and the man’s own granddaughter ran up to him asking him to lift her onto his shoulders to watch a parade. It was so crowded that the young girl couldn’t see with all the people around. The man just stood there in his armor and told her…his own sweet granddaughter…that he could not help her with her request.
Then, one day, the king came out of the palace to thank the man for his commitment to guarding the palace all these years. The king asked the man to come into his palace for the very first time.
The man was elated! He couldn’t believe that after all these years, he had achieved his idea of greatness…an invitation into the king’s palace. However, even though the man was ecstatic, he couldn’t move. After years and years of standing still in his armor, it had become so stiff and rusty that he was unable to move even an inch. He never made it inside the palace doors that day.
If only the man would have served others along the way. If only the man would have bent down to pick up the blind woman’s apples…if only the man would have given his hand to the crippled old man who fell…if only the man would have put his granddaughter up on his shoulders. If only…he would have moved. If only…he would have truly served. If only…
Furthermore (just because that word sounds super fancy), we realize from this story that the man could have achieved his idea of greatness if he would have served. We can’t stand still and achieve greatness. We need to move. Serving requires action. Serving provides “grease to our elbows” or “grease to our joints” in the case of the man’s stiffened armor. The story could have ended differently if the man would have chosen to serve.
Are we willing to say, “Away with the armor!” and serve? I’ve written about a servant’s heart before, but I just adore Roy Lessin’s writing and wanted to share it again:
In the Kingdom of God, we find the highest place is found as we take the lowly place. Strength is found as we discover our weakness. Fullness comes as we empty ourselves. Life is gained as we lay it down for love’s sake. Riches are gained as we give them away. Greatness comes as we carry a towel and washbasin into every circumstance and relationship in life.
In Matthew 23:11, it says that to be the greatest, we need to be the servant. The word, servant, typically has a negative connotation, doesn’t it? Sometimes, it evokes feelings of being lowly. But, in Mark 9:35, Jesus said that anyone wanting to be the greatest must be the least. Whoever wants to be first must be last.
We’ve heard it many times in the Gospel readings, but it’s just so hard to do! By nature, we don’t want to be last or least or by all means…a servant. However, let’s challenge ourselves this week to take off our armor, piece by piece, and serve. Each one of us has a unique suit of armor that sometimes prevents us from serving.
What is our armor? What’s holding us back? Do we think we’re too busy? Are we afraid to fail? Are we too proud? Maybe we don’t think we can make a difference? Are we waiting for the perfect time? I think we’ll find that we will be able to move much easier without our armor...whatever our armor happens to be. Surely, we will find greatness as we bend our knees and reach out our hands to serve with love.
Away with the armor!