And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
There is a little congregation in Wichita, Kansas that calls itself Mennonite Church of the Servant. I’m good friends with the pastor, and I’ve been impressed with the radical commitment that these folks have to following in the way of Jesus in their everyday lives. I never really gave much thought to their name, but lately I’ve been realizing how important it is that they identify themselves as a servant church.
The reality is that every person who truly wants to be a friend and follower of Jesus must become a servant, just like he did. Everything in our nature as human beings resists serving others. We shy away from putting ourselves at the mercy of others, placing their well-being ahead of our own interests. Yet, this is exactly the way that Jesus lived. It is a challenge that he issues to us today: To be a Christian is to become a servant to everyone.
Jesus directed his life and ministry to those on the margins. He touched the lives of the weak, desperate and outcast. I use the word touched intentionally. In an age where even associating with the wrong kind of people meant shame and exclusion, Jesus went so far as to touch lepers and eat with the most despised people in his social world.
Jesus did this despite the fact that he had all the credentials to be hanging out with the best and brightest. If he had played by the rules and flattered the right people, he could have been a well-respected rabbi. He could have lived a comfortable life. Instead, he put the needs of the most hated and untouchable people ahead of his own.
Even in his most inner circle of followers, Jesus followed this pattern. His closest friends were fishermen, tax collectors and insurrectionists! Jesus loved, taught and protected his motley crew of disciples, despite the fact that they had no natural reason to expect it. Jesus could have played guru and emphasized his superiority at every turn. But he did the opposite. He was transparent, teaching his friends everything that he knew. Rather than commanding servants who just did as they were told, he called the disciples his friends.
Jesus even laid his life down for his enemies, people who plotted to destroy him. Jesus surrendered his life when he could have seized control. Jesus might have been a commanding religious figure, a military messiah, the long-awaited king of Israel. But instead, he was nailed to a cross by Roman occupiers, derided as the king of the Jews. He died just as he lived, a servant to all, including those who hated him.
What does it mean for us to follow a savior who dies in this way – not just for friends, but for enemies, too? Most days, I’m not even sure I want to understand this life of total surrender. I fear what I might be asked to do, how Jesus might call me to serve others as I seek to walk in his way. Jesus’ path of suffering servanthood is shocking. It runs completely contrary to my natural inclination to comfort and self-preservation. Yet, if I believe that Jesus is who he claims to be, I must follow.
Are we ready to walk in the shocking path of Jesus? Do we have the courage to reach out and share our lives with the people around us that have been excluded for whatever reason – the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, the physically and mentally disabled, and so many others whom our society makes invisible, untouchable? What does it look like for us to become servants to the least of these all around us?
In the comments below, I invite you to share what you plan to do this week to reach out and serve someone who has been forgotten by successful people. What will you do to bless another person like that, with no expectation of return?