A single sentence that is supremely significant in our Gospel today, it is right at the end of the Gospel so it could easily escape our ears…
“The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Gospel passages like that usually don’t turn us on. Automatically we associate one who serves with low income and menial labor. But in reality, “servant” is just another name for Christian.
I know for a fact that many of the people of this parish already serve. Many of you give yourselves, your time and energy, your head, your heart, your creativity and your compassion to those who need you. And when you do that you image Christ.
It all goes back to what Jesus said to His apostles… “I came not to be served, but to serve. In fact, to give My life as a ransom for many.”
Why else do you think God’s son chose to be born in a stable? Walk the roads of Palestine for three years healing the sick and raising the dead? Why did He make friends with prostitutes and the poor, with sinners and outcasts?
Why did He let His enemies beat Him up, crown His head with thorns, nail Him between two robbers, curse Him until He gasped His life away?
Because He loved every man and woman He had made in His image. Because He wanted to experience what He knew they were going through. Because He cared, cared enough to live for others and to die for them.
Because without His caring, the whole world would literally have gone to hell.
Christ no longer walks our streets, and so it is our role as Christians to be the compassionate Christ. Wherever you live and move and have your being, to be Christian it is not enough to believe, to repeat the creed each Sunday. The New Testament letter of James is brutally clear on that score.
“You believe that God is one. You do well, but even the demons believe, and they shudder in fear.”
So what else does God want?
The same letter tells us graphically, “What does it profit, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he or she has faith but has not works? Can faith save him or her? If a brother or sister is ill-clad, lacks daily food, and one of you says to them “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead.”
When you leave this church, you do not exit alone, you exit with Christ for others. Outside this church is a whole wide world that needs you with your Christ. The need may be far away. You may even help that need with a phone call. Or the need may be close by, even in your own home.
The vast majority of us are good people. Injustice makes our blood boil, compassion is second nature to us. That is splendid, but for the Christian, the milk of human kindness is only a beginning, it is not all God asks of us.
We are commanded, not invited, commanded by God’s own son to love those we serve as we love ourselves. All of those. Those who turn you on, as well as those who turn you off. The nice and the not-so-nice.
Enabled by grace, we must see in the less fortunate the image of God begrimed and bruised, beyond recognition, but still God’s image. Just as Jesus was, even when He was covered in blood, crowned with thorns, lashed with whips and nailed to wood.
Love them as you love yourself.
It’s a hard saying. It might be good to recall the words of St. Vincent DePaul, “Unless you love those in need, they will not forgive you for the bread you give them.”
It isn’t easy being a Christian.
Trying not so much to do the things Christ did but trying to emulate the love with which He did them. And remembering what He told us in the Gospel today…
“The greatest among you is the one who serves.”