Called to Serve
Readings: John 13:1-7, Philippians 2:3-13
Our gospel reading is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the last supper. It was customary to have feet washed before reclining on couches at a meal, for walking the streets of Palestine made them very dirty. Children might wash their parents’ feet, or wives their husbands’. If there were servants or slaves, that would be their task – except that if the slave or servant was a Jew, they were not required to wash their master’s feet.
Jesus’ action in washing his disciples’ feet was a striking reversal of roles: rabbis would never stoop to such a task, whereas disciples were expected to perform acts of personal service for their rabbis. Jesus’ action was symbolic, foreshadowing the cross by which his disciples are cleansed from sin. Yet the most obvious point Jesus makes is that we are not to be too proud to offer one another (and to receive) the humblest service. If he, our Lord and master, can wash his disciples’ feet, we can serve one another!
Paul makes the same point to the Philippians. He reminds them that Jesus ‘made himself nothing’, he ‘humbled himself’: despite being God, equal to the Father, he was prepared to suffer the most degrading death on our behalf. ‘Have the same mindset’, says Paul. In practice, that means looking to one another’s interests, not just our own, and honouring one another above ourselves.
Serve one another
How can we serve one another in practice? Christ-like service has three requirements:
a) Humility. This is not self-degrading. It springs from the status that Jesus has and gives to us, that of children of God, members of the royal household. Since that is so, we do not have to prove it or fight for it, by standing on our rights. Instead, we value one another and look for ways of showing our respect and appreciation for them.
b) Thoughtfulness. Looking out for others’ interests requires thought and sensitivity – it is possible to ‘help’ others in a way that demeans them, controls them, or shows little respect.
c) Sacrifice. Some kinds of service make us feel good, and don’t cost us much at all. But sooner or later Christ will call us to offer service that will take effort or not be convenient, and may not be noticed or appreciated. That will be when we are most Christ-like!
Serve our neighbour
The early Christians were noticed for the care they took of their widows and orphans – but not only those of their own community. They cared for their neighbours without distinctions. Is that the mark of our church?
Serve the Lord
Serving others is serving the Lord – more than any religious activity! (James 1:27) Worship is serving the Lord (they are ‘services’), but they cannot be an excuse for not serving each other.
TO THINK ABOUT
1) What service are we prepared to offer? And to receive?
2) ‘God’s service is freedom.’ Is it?