Isaiah 44:21-23, Matthew 20:22–28, John 12:26 (read online ⧉)
What is a servant? That isn’t a small question. In fact, in our culture, it is a huge thing.
The cultural implications are generally demeaning (Alfred notwithstanding). That probably has a lot to do with the cultural wound of slavery, when humans claimed ownership of others. In addition, servants were often the poor or undereducated or uneducated for whom being a servant was actually an improvement from their previous circumstances. We see much of this in waitstaff or clerks or other “service industry” people. Many young people work in so-called service industries and their parents have been guilty of saying, “so you’ll know why you want a better job.” It sounds harsh, doesn’t it? On the other hand, in other cultures, servants or service industries are not so demeaned. In some European countries, for example, tipping a waiter is an insult. They are professionals and should be treated as such.
This is incredibly important as we read the verses from Isaiah. Jacob/Israel is God’s servant. This is not intended to be a demeaning title, but one that bestows great honor. Only the Israelites had the gift of being in relationship with God. In our culture, this “gets to be a servant” has serious overtones that damage the God-honoring view of serving God as worship. Our culture of individuality along with our history of service jobs and slavery looks at this as condescension and power, rather than what it is…a blessed arrangement. This is God’s perspective and it is the long-held view of Israelite and (now) Jewish thought.
When we read Jesus’ words to his disciples, we can see (especially in the light of Isaiah’s words) just how shocking Jesus’ words actually were. Jesus was switching up the “rules”. Jesus (the Son of God) surrendered his divinity to serve. Jesus served as teacher, example (for a life that honored God), and sacrifice. In his words to his disciples, he noted the problem Gentiles had with servants (sounds familiar). It was a power issue. Servants—those that serve others—are not to be dismissed due to their role or position. In fact, it would seem that servants are to actually be honored.
We get that to some degree. As part of our church life, there are many who serve both as a calling and as an outpouring of worship (worship of God). John gives us some context that ties it all together. If we serve God, we follow God. Perhaps the next time you see servant or serve in the Scriptures, change it to follow or follower and see how your heart responds.
1) What is your initial response to being a servant? Why? How do you think that response was formed?
2) We often intellectually (i.e., unemotionally) assent or agree that God calls us to serve. Why, then, does the church lack servants? What can be done to change the culture?
3) Have you ever been to a restaurant where the waitstaff were professionals? What was it like compared to places where the waitstaff are only in “starting” jobs?