“Jesus came to serve, not to be served.” – Matthew 20:28
I would argue that in our attempt to be like Jesus by serving others many of us in America have missed the point of what Jesus meant. In fact, we tend to do the exact opposite of one of the most fundamental messages of Jesus.
We even see it in the context of the passage above. Two of the disciples get their mommy (at least we assume this by the reaction of the other ten) to ask Jesus if they can be in power when Jesus becomes King. The point Jesus is making is that the Kingdom of God is a place where the great are those who give up their power. In his words “they must become slaves.”
As is typical of Jesus, his point is not about acts of service in themselves, as though giving a plate to a homeless dude makes you like Jesus, but about a heart that lowers itself and gives up its privileges for the sake of the other, just as Paul describes in Philippians 2.
Too often we use serving others as a power trip, a self-deceiving perversion of what Jesus was about. And as such, I would argue that to learn to give up power in the way Jesus meant in Matthew 20, we actually need to do the opposite of what Jesus says.
What’s that you say? Don’t do what Jesus says so that we can do what Jesus meant? Yes, exactly.
If we are truly going to experience what it means to give up our power as middle-class Americans, we need to stop dying on the cross as “I always give to others” martyr and start learning to be served by the “least of these.” It is in this balance of serving and being served that we will begin to understand what Jesus was about.
What do I mean? I simply mean this: we often serve others as a way to make sure we don’t have to admit our weakness to others or ourselves. In our attempt to be like Jesus, we start to replace Jesus, developing a Messiah Complex. We do everything we can to avoid being served by others. Why? Because as long as I am on the “right” side of the soup kitchen line, I am still in power over those I am serving. As long as I am comforting you in your distress, I am not faced with the social humiliation of having to ask for help.
And if there is one thing Americans have a problem with, stereotypically, it’s asking for help.
So if we want to find a way to be like the Jesus who, although had cosmic social status, gave it up to be a servant, we would do better to find our example in the Jesus who allows the prostitute to wipe his feet with her hair in the middle of a social gathering. Maybe we sometimes we need to be served in order to serve.
So may we stop using endless “serving those less fortunate” experiences as a back-handed way of reminding ourselves that “at least we’re not like them” and instead start admitting our weaknesses, our need for help, and our vulnerability to those around us.