Monday, October 23, 2006

Thoughts on Servanthood

Yesterday's lectionary readings from Isaiah 53 and particularly Mark 10:35-45, all centered around the theme of servanthood. When I teach this mid-section of St. Mark's gospel in my Synoptics class, I am always keen to point out the difference in the way the disciples are portrayed here and the way they are treated by Matthew later. As Fr. Daniel Durken, O. S. B., pointed out in his homily, the disciples really don't "get it." He went even further than I sometimes do, portraying the circle of discipleship as "dysfunctional," and James and John as the gospels' stereotype of "dumb and dumber."

Instead of their hopes for power and promotion, Jesus dares to call them to servanthood. Servants, Fr. Dan said, are taken for granted--at least until their services disappear. Citing the social research of Nickel and Dimed in America, he pointed out that servants aren't paid well and are treated even worse. These folks, he maintained, undergird our society and do the grunt work. As a result, he postulated, at the end of the gospel lection we might be tempted to add, "I am Jesus and I approve of this message."!!!

In contradistinction to the way many Evangelical pastors try to reduce the gospel to the hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage, Fr. Daniel suggested that the question for this election is: Who will best live out their election as a servant? Which candidate views their role primarily as "public service," not an opportunity for self aggrandizement. And, even more delicate, will the candidate willingly give his/her career as a "ransom for many"?

For those of us not running for office, we find our identity in community as we gather at the Lord's Table. We are, quite literally, a "Eucharistic community." Having received our servant status at our baptism, we are, in the benediction, "sent forth to love and serve the Lord." Understanding our role as servants (I think of Paul's epistolary greetings here) is key to the way we frame our vocation. How is it that this has been lost in the ideological warfare of American culture that pervades the church? Restoring it and, even more importantly, living it is at the center of my sabbatical epiphany this week.