Humbly Serving One Another
The other day I watched a nurse gently take the socks off of an elderly patient and begin to massage their feet and then carefully rub them with lotion. The tender way in which the nurse spoke with her patient, carefully taking off the socks, lovingly addressing her patient the entire time so that she would not feel embarrassed, and truly making the patient feel that she really wanted to be doing what she was doing, touched me in a special way. I got the sense that the nurse truly cared about what she was doing. This was not simply a job to her, but a tender act of love.
Watching this interaction made me think about Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever desires to be first in the group must be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44) Humbly and lovingly serving one another is a sign of greatness in the eyes of God. We’re not talking about serving another for any type of recognition. We’re not talking about serving another grudgingly out of a sense of duty.
No. Jesus was emphasizing that our service to others should come solely out of our love for others; serving others with humility, while preserving their dignity and honor; serving others solely because we want to imitate our Master and treat others the way He treated them. We want to love others because God has first loved us, and filled us with His divine love, making such acts of kindness and love our normal behavior. As followers of Jesus Christ, we wash the feet of others because it is a part of our DNA, a central part of who we are.
Too often in society, those who hold a certain position, or those who have power, typically expect others to wait on them, and to serve them. We often work our way up the ladder of success so that we are in a higher position than others, so that we can expect others to listen to us and serve us. This is often seen as a sign to how we have succeeded in the world.
Living under the reign of Christ, however, has a different perspective on success. Living under the ways of God’s Kingdom turns the world’s expectations upside down. True authority in God’s eyes compels us to serve others. The closer we draw near to Christ doesn’t mean we become prouder, it implies we humbly become more like our Master, a servant who compassionately reached out to all those who came to Him and even washed the feet of his closest followers.
We all remember that most beautiful story in the Bible. We will commemorate it in another two weeks on Holy Thursday, when we recall the Last Supper and Jesus’ final words to his closest disciples. He gathered together with His friends to celebrate the Passover meal, and at the meal He “laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded Himself, and then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:4-5)
Even though the 12 disciples had lived with Jesus for three years, listening to all his teachings and watching the way He compassionately interacted with all those He encountered, still they were shocked to see Jesus get up from dinner and do the work of a slave by washing their dirty feet. Peter was so confused and shocked that he initially refused to allow Christ to disgrace Himself in front of his friends. Yet this act of humility and love exemplified the divine mission of Christ; it set an example the disciples would never forget. “Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus taught. “You call me teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15)
I’m sure the disciples never forgot that example! Greatness in God’s eyes comes from serving others. Power in God’s eyes comes through humbling ourselves before others. Thinking we deserve others to serve us has no place in the Christian life. Any egocentric pride leads us away from God. Humility is the central virtue that always draws us closer towards our Creator, and humble service leads us down the path of Christ. Truly serving others in a Christ-like manner implies sincerely caring about others and treating all people, but especially the most marginalized of society, with dignity and respect.
“I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was naked. I was in need. Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sister, you did to Me.” Christ calls us to serve others, especially those in need, and in the process, we achieve greatness by serving Him in the disguise of the needy.
This concept of joyfully and humbly serving others out of selfless love may seem confusing for our modern world, and yet it stands at the heart of our Christian life! “I have come not to be served, but to serve others,” Jesus said, “and to give my life as a ransom for others.”
Humbly and lovingly serving one another is a sign of greatness in the eyes of God.
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St. Mary of Egypt is beloved in the Church because of her radical turn around. In her own testimony, she describes her early life as one of reckless abandon and pleasure, describing herself not simply as a prostitute, but as one who joyfully went from man to man. One day, though, she saw a large crowd of pilgrims boarding a ship going to the Holy Lands for the feast of the Holy Cross. She felt an urge to follow the crowd and paid her passage on board her ship by offering her body to the sailors, who readily accepted her proposal. Of course, her decision to go to Jerusalem had little to do with her desire to see the holy lands, as much as had to do with following her curiosity. When she arrived in Jerusalem, she followed the crowds entering the church of the Holy Sepulchre, yet an invisible force stopped her from going inside. She tried to enter again and again, but each time the same thing happened. Finally, she sat outside the Church, and a sudden sense of deep contrition overwhelmed her. She prayed all night with deep and sincere tears of repentance. The next morning, she tried entering the Church again, and this time, was allowed to walk in and venerate the life-giving and precious Cross of our Lord. Following this sacred experience, she decided to radically change her way of life. She left Jerusalem and did not return to Egypt, but instead went into the desert beyond the Jordan River living as an extreme acetic for the next 47 years. Imagine 47 years of living alone, praying, fasting, and seeking out God.
St. Mary’s greatness did not come through humble service, as the Lord challenges us today, but came from another sacred path – that of authentic and sincere repentance. An incredibly sinful woman who radically changes her life, turns back to God, and becomes a pillar of holiness.
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