Soldiers also asked Him, “And we, what shall we do?” And He said to them, “Rob no one by violence or false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
In the last reflection on “serve,” I wrote that to truly serve, one has to divest himself or herself of any expectation of reward. This, of course, does not match with the reality of what happens when we work at a job. The expectation, and frankly, the need, of a job is to get a reward, a paycheck. To truly “serve” as a priest, ideally, I wouldn’t be taking any money. But in addition to my ministry, this is my vocation, and I expect and need a paycheck in order to pay my bills and put food on the table. There is nothing wrong with having a paying job, we all need one.
However, it seems, in my humble opinion, that for many people, there is a decreasing sense of service in jobs. It’s as if many people are just there for the money. In most of my customer service encounters, it seems that I’m just a dollar sign, or even worse, a bother. In many instances, I don’t feel “served” or “cared for”. I am continually underwhelmed in restaurants, where I go for relaxation and a meal that I didn’t have to cook, and I’m willing to pay some money in order to have a good experience. And then the service is bad, the portions are small, the food is hastily thrown together, and I end up disappointed. Or I go to the store to buy something and need some assistance locating what I need or have a question about what I need to by and there is no one to help. There aren’t enough people working and those who do, it’s like their motto is “show me the money,” and they have no interest in actually doing their jobs.
One more piece of this rant, before I offer some words of encouragement. Before I was ordained, I was the chanter in a large parish in the Boston area. I was 24 years old. And I “negotiated” a salary of $50 per service with this parish. (They had wanted to pay $35, so I negotiated up.) At my first service, I got out this beautiful Byzantine music score in third tone (my favorite Byzantine tone) and sang with gusto. Afterward the priest said to me in very firm tone, “Put that Byzantine stuff away, sing the ‘green book’ (a very simple version of the Liturgy), do everything in English,” and then for extra emphasis he said “I own you. You sold yourself for $50 per service and I own you!” And I looked at him and said “I’m sorry Father, you are absolutely right. I will do it as you have asked.” And we never had another cross word. About six months later, another parish offered me $125 per service and said I could sing whatever I wanted to sing, and I passed on the offer, because I had negotiated something that I thought was fair. The next year, when I told the priest I was getting ordained and would have to leave my post as his chanter, he thanked me for being a good servant, and had tears in his eyes. We remained friends until his death.
Now, if I told someone “I own you!” that probably wouldn’t go over too well. But it’s the truth. When we take a job, it’s a decision we make voluntarily. Even jobs like the military where one takes orders constantly is entered into voluntarily. So when we voluntarily take a job and the compensation associated with it, we are in fact, selling ourselves to an employer for a specific amount of money. If we aren’t happy with the money, then we should get a different job, not cry to the employer and slack off on work because we think we are worth more.
And on top of taking a salary, ideally one invests himself or herself as a servant in whatever job they are in. They invest something emotionally in the work. They care about accuracy and deadlines and want their employer and his or her business to look good. That’s serving with a servant’s heart. The worker at the restaurant wants the patrons to be happy with the dining experience, wants them to come back, wants them to speak well of the restaurant. It’s not just put down the food, take the money and who cares what the customer thinks. When I apologized to the priest years ago, I meant it, and I worked very hard to learn the “green book” and offer the responses to the service just the way he wanted it. Because it wasn’t just about what HE wanted, it was the direction that he was leading the parish. He wanted the congregation to sing, he wanted the service to be in English, etc. Today that church is thriving. And while I haven’t attended or chanted there in over 25 years, I’d like to think that my offering contributed in some very small way to how they are today. I would hate to think that I did something that set them behind because I insisted on doing something my own way rather than serving.
Imagine the way that jobs or companies could change if instead of us saying “I work for the school as a teacher,” we said “I serve the school as a teacher.” Or instead of “I work as a firefighter/lawyer/doctor (insert your job)” we said “I serve as a firefighter/lawyer/ doctor. Imagine the way our mindset could change if we saw our jobs not just as places that put money in our pockets but places we serve and people we serve. We are all going to have to stand in front of God one day and answer for whatever we did or didn’t do in our lives. I would cringe at the thought of facing God and saying to Him “I worked at my job for forty years, hated it, hated the people I worked for and with, and just did it for the paycheck.” It would be much better to serve people on the way to collecting the paycheck than merely working for money. Each of us has a talent we are supposed to use to not only better our pockets but to better the world. There is nothing wrong with making money from working, but money can’t be the only reason for working.
Lord, thank You for whatever gifts and talents I have that help me to hold a job. Allow me through my work to provide for my family. As I work for sustenance, please also give me a spirit of service, so that I see what I do not only as a job but as an opportunity to serve others and to serve You. Help me to see You in the faces of those with whom and for whom I work. Help me to be content with what I receive. And to know that the greatest glory in work is not the material reward but working towards the eternal reward. Amen.
See yourself not only as a worker who collects a paycheck but a servant to your employer, employees, customers and clients! As you work, don’t forget to serve!