We have an award culture. I don’t know if I go so far as to agree with Jerry Seinfeld that “all awards are stupid” but it is remarkable how communities cultivate the hunger for extrinsic motivation in children by handing out awards for almost everything, including participation. The hunger for recognition seems to translate into competition in almost every industry, and the media becomes a platform for heroes and anti-heroes alike.
Jesus’s disciples were not immune to the competition for recognition and power. James and John asked Jesus if they could secure a spot on either side of him in his glory. Jesus had been alluding to his impending glorification and rising, and they imagined Jesus rising to power like a wealthy king and saving them from their political oppressors. They wanted to share some of that power and recognition and rule the world with Jesus, from either side of his throne.
The fly in the ointment was that Jesus’s concept of glory was in dying. His entire purpose and mission — the very nature of God — is revealed in this description: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God was coming to serve us, not to rule over us from the iron throne. He was bearing the death of the whole world, so that we might be free to not conform to the world’s systems of hierarchy and power. He was upending the world with service.
The word ransom implies being liberated beyond ourselves. God’s service to us frees us from bondage to our false selves, and our service to God for others expresses that wild regeneration in us. It is not like a person obligated to doing the dishes because they have low self-esteem or their roommate is a jerk. It is more like untamed love not withheld. It is doing to the dishes to defy the rules of the world and love your roommate. It is like Jesus giving up his equality with God to become a servant.
The gift of service cannot be reduced to a role or a task or a job—it is way too wild. It is not “volunteering.” It is more like coming into your fullness as a Jesus-follower, and you can note its power. People cry when the Pope kisses babies and handicapped children because people do not walk around doing that all the time. Mother Theresa influenced world leaders by relentlessly caring for the poor and dying. St. Francis got locked in a closet by his father for trying to give all of his money to the church. Chris Mintz took bullets in his body to protect other students in Oregon last week, and his story went viral. Serving is powerful.
Our own serving might not feel powerful all the time. But in the way of Jesus it is the path to greatness, and it does make a difference. Here are three traits of a servant to encourage your gift:
- Servants reject natural estimations of worth in people, time, and money. Instead they express the new pattern of relationships Jesus institutes. They invest in people that others have given up on. They share their resources instead of saving for that bigger vacation.
- Servants are practical, like love is. They burn to get it done. They don’t get stuck in sentimentality and they’re not worried about who else should be doing it.
- Servants focus on God. They don’t do it for the affirmation from other people.
Servants suffer the loneliness or whatever it takes to go where Jesus is leading. It’s not Joel Osteen-esque where everything is promised to work out bountifully if you have enough faith or something. Everything will work out bountifully in the end with Jesus, but those who follow the suffering servant will suffer too. They will also accomplish great things, like the redemption of the world. And they are often bubbling over with the love and nearness of the Servant.