For which is greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.
For those of us who have teenagers, the subject of college and career probably come up often. Most of us tell our kids that not going to college is not an option. And if your child came up to you and said “my heart is set on being a truck driver” would probably tell them to choose something else to do with their lives. Yet, where would we be in the world without a truck driver. The doctor would have no medical supplies to work with. There would be no food on the shelves of the stores. There would be no building materials delivered to construction workers, no clothes to buy, you get the idea. The truck driver is a pretty important job. As would be the mechanics who service the trucks. Where would we be in this world without truck drivers, mechanics, sanitation workers, and others who serve us? The truth is we’d be nowhere, we’d be dead in short order. With no disposal of garbage, the bacteria would kill us. With nothing to eat, we’d die of starvation. With no one to repair delivery trucks or garbage trucks, we’d suffer the same.
An account of the Last Supper is told in each of the four Gospels (though each is slightly different). In all accounts, we read that Jesus “presided” over the last supper, He sat at the table and taught the disciples. He was the “celebrant” or “emcee”, the focal point of the gathering. He was the teacher, the disciples sat around as students. He also instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In John’s account, (John 13:3-17), in the middle of the meal, Jesus got up from the table and washed the feet of the disciples. He girded Himself with a towel, poured water in a basin, and went to each disciple and washed his feet and dried them with the towel. Peter objected, asking why Jesus would wash HIS feet? Jesus told Peter, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” (John 13:7) Jesus was setting an example for the disciples that the master is not greater than the servant, that even the master has to serve those below him.
In Luke’s account, there is a dispute among the disciples over which of them should be regarded as the greatest. Jesus responded, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.” It is important that we serve those who are “under” us, so to speak. This means anyone in our care. For those who are in service industries, it means serving your customers as if serving the Lord—it means taking care in making that hamburger in the restaurant, or being careful in someone’s house if you are the plumber. For a parent, it means serving your child, not just providing for them, making sure they have food, but serving emotional needs. For spouses, it means serving one another, not just co-parenting or co-maintaining a house but looking out for each other emotionally and spiritually.
We have this hierarchy, it seems, as we rank jobs. We naturally rank some higher than others, and then for the lower ranking jobs, we tend to ignore or not respect them. How many people think of the plumber as some grungy guy who comes into the house and we just want him to do his work and be gone. When I was a child, I had a fascination with the garbage collectors and gardeners. No surprise that I like cutting grass. I live on a cul-de-sac, and with cars parked in the street, it is hard for the garbage truck to get close to each house to get the garbage cans and lift them on to his truck. Anytime I’m outside and the garbage truck comes, I’ll walk around the cul-de-sac and move the trash cans so he can be in one place and it just goes faster for him. It’s kind of in line with my childhood fascination with garbage collectors, but also a small way I can help someone in the service industry, and let them know that I don’t consider them “less than” me or anyone else. The wave and honk of the horn always makes me feel that the three minute interruption to help him is worth it.
It is important for you to know that I’m not perfect, far from it. There are plenty of times when I think of serving myself, when I mutter to myself why is it taking so long in the restaurant drive-thru. But it is important to remember that we are called to serve everyone, those who are our bosses, and those who are “below us.” In the Compline service, (and in other services, this is just the one that comes to mind first), there is a petition which says, “For those who serve and who minister to us.” How wonderful it would be if we added this prayer to our daily prayers, and this does not mean just our priest, who ministers to us, but anyone who serves us. I don’t know the names of the men who pick up the garbage in my neighborhood, but they serve me, because without them, I wouldn’t have a sanitary place to call home. I don’t know the names of ANY truck drivers, but I wouldn’t be alive without them either.
The example of Jesus, washing the feet of the disciples, is an example that even the Master saw Himself as a servant. And while I wouldn’t suggest washing the feet of your garbage collector or the next truck driver you meet, a smile, a wave, a gesture of appreciation would go a long way I’m sure. And remembering those who serve us in our prayers would help lead to this consciousness of appreciation for them. One last thought, if we are all created in the image and likeness of God, then there really is no one “below us,” because He didn’t create any of us with greater or lesser image of God in us, just with different talents with which we express that image.
Today, He who holds the whole world in His hand is born from a Virgin. (3) He who is impalpable in essence is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mortal. God, who in the beginning established the heavens of old, is lying in a manger as a newborn babe. He who rained down manna for the people in the wilderness is nursed by His mother. He who is the Bridegroom of the Church is summoning the Magi. And He is accepting their gifts, now as the Son of the Virgin. “We adore Your Nativity, O Christ. We adore Your Nativity, O Christ. We adore Your Nativity, O Christ. Also show us Your divine Epiphany.” (Doxastikon, 9th Hour, Royal Hours, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Have you thought about those in the service industry as being greater than the ones they serve?