As we continue on our Lenten journey, trying to grow in “the mind of Christ,” this week I want to reflect on another basic characteristic of the personality of Jesus Christ — his attitude of service.
But in looking at his attitude of service, we enter more deeply into his character. In fact, he summed up his whole mission this way: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
One of the earliest Christian hymns, found in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, describes the mystery of the Incarnation in terms of service: Although Jesus was God, he emptied himself to come down and become a man, “taking the form of a slave … becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
When Jesus talks about service, he is talking about something far greater than having a desire to help others. The cross shows us what Jesus means by service. Service means total obedience to the will of God. To serve is to give your life as a gift, as a “ransom” for others.
Jesus came to serve and he gave his life serving others.
He taught his closest followers to be servant leaders. When the apostles James and John ask Jesus to grant them special privileges — to sit at his right and left hand in heaven — he tells them gently that they have no idea what they are asking.
He tells his apostles, and anyone who would seek to be a leader in the Church: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
If we want to be leaders in the Church — at any level and in any ministry — we need to have an understanding of power, authority, and “greatness” that is far different from what we find in the worlds of politics and business.
We lead others by serving them.
Jesus demonstrates this in a striking way on his final night with his apostles. He bends down to wash their feet. His last act among them is the act of a servant. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do,” he said.
To follow Jesus Christ means we need to imitate him, we need to “become” Christ in our hearts, in our attitude toward life, in our way of thinking.
And we see beautiful examples of Christian service in the lives of saints like Damian of Molokai and Mother Teresa of Calcutta who served the poorest of the poor.
To have the heart of Jesus, the heart of service means overcoming our natural tendency to be selfish and to seek our own self-interests. To acquire this heart of service takes a long time, a lifetime, really.
We need to ask for God’s grace every day and we need to grow in humility and developing habits of self-denial. We need to “practice” every day, learning to see others are more important than us, learning to think about their needs before we think about our own.
God wants us to serve others, especially the poor and the vulnerable. But in serving our brothers and sisters on earth, we are also serving the living and true God, who is our Father in heaven. When we serve in the name of Jesus, we make God present, bringing our brothers and sisters to know Jesus Christ and his beautiful promise for their lives.
The reason we serve is the same reason Jesus serves — out of love for God and the desire to follow his will for our lives. Service is love in action. And the measure of our love, the measure of our service, is always the cross.
Jesus calls us to make our lives a gift that we offer to God. He taught us to think of our lives as he thought of his — as a seed that falls to the ground, dies and is buried, only to spring up again and produce beautiful fruit.
“Whoever loves his life loses it,” he said. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
In our service of love, we grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ, until the day we can say, as St. Paul did, that is not we who serve, but Jesus who serves through us.
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you.
Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to learn the joy of Jesus, the joy of giving our lives in service to God and to others.
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