The Son of Man Came to Serve

Only one week before the Crucifixion of Our Lord, two of the Twelve Apostles, James and John, approached their Master with a proposition. "Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory" (Mark 10.37).

Our Lord looked at them with deep comprehension. He knew that they were only saying out loud what was on the minds of all the Apostles. Everyone had been impressed with the wild popularity and the adulation of the crowds. Everyone in the band of disciples had assumed that it was only a matter of time before Jesus became the Lord of Jerusalem, drive out the Roman soldiers, and set things to right in the Jewish nation.

So the Apostles were doing what every politician knows how to do: jockey for power and influence. James and John wanted prestige and authority. The others were scandalized when they heard what these two had attempted. But they wanted the same thing, nonetheless.

Jesus understood them all. And with the same perfect insight, He also knew what would happen in the space of only a few days. "You do not know what you are asking," He told them. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?"

This was a challenge to the Apostles' short-sighted view of the Kingdom of God. They thought the enemy was the Romans. Jesus knew, instead, that the real enemy was sin and death. They thought the prize was Jerusalem. Jesus knew, instead, that the real prize was salvation in the New Jerusalem. They thought the end of the struggle would happen in just a few days. Jesus knew, instead, that what would happen in the next Holy Week was just the beginning.

Jesus understood, with complete and Divine intelligence, the main cause of the disciples' misunderstanding. They had failed to perceive what leadership meant in the Kingdom of God. They did not comprehend the nature of Christian authority and power.

There is a difference between leadership in the world, and leadership in the Church, the Body of Christ. Leadership in the world is all about prestige and pride. It is all about privilege and condescension.

But in the Body of Christ, it is all about self-sacrifice. It is all about surrender and submission. It is all about setting one's own interests aside for the sake of others. It is all about laying down one's own life so that others may live.

It is all about the Son of God pouring out His life as the Son of Man. Jesus called His disciples together to explain this mystery, and He said: "You know that those who rule over the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise tyrannical power over them. But it shall not be so among you - whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all" (Mark 10.42-44).

This must have come as a shock to the disciples, and it must have violated every single one of their sensibilities. This was the exact opposite of everything they knew about leadership. They had assumed that being in authority meant that one could have his own way ... that one could push his weight around ... that one could speak his mind and do things the way he wanted them done.

Jesus Christ was clearly describing a different sort of leadership. He was describing a different ethic, and different scale of values. He was describing a sort of authority that differed completely from the worldly image of the hetman, the gazda, the tyrant and the emperor, the boss and the prince.

Jesus Christ described the Lordship of the Body of Christ as the Suffering Servant, Who lowered Himself to death so that everyone else could be raised up to life.

He was, after all, describing Himself: "For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10.45).

In this very Word, we receive the revelation of God Who lowers Himself to live with us. We hear of God Who bends down from the height of heaven to not only become one of us ... Who not only takes upon Himself the flesh of His creation ... Who not only visits this world cursed with thorns and thistles, sweat and hard labor ... but Who also assumes the full accumulation of the wages of sin, and the dreadful totality of the weight of death.

In this Holy Orthodox Church, we hear, everyday, that God is the Servant of Man.

Where else will you hear such a thing? Everywhere else in the world, there is a different story. There are Greek gods who live high up on Olympus, only glancing at the affairs of men. There are Norse gods who drink in Valhalla, only caring for the glories of war. There are Oriental gods who care only for balance and symmetry. There are desert gods who only notice zeal and vengeance.

And before you think that this is only superstition and primitive stuff, bear in mind the fact that there are modern gods who are mindful of man only when he is rich enough, or successful enough, or beautiful enough, or important enough.

These false gods have established the myth of the tyrant.

The true God, the Holy Trinity, has established the truth of the Servant God, of the Divine Grace which is Love: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall never perish, but shall have everlasting life" (John 3.16).

Our God is an awesome God, but He is a serving God, Who serves mankind by bringing salvation and restoration to the Family of Man.

That much is clear. That much we have heard, over and over again in the Gospel story of the Church of God, the Mystical Body of Christ.

What remains for us is to follow after the Author and Finisher of our Faith. What remains for us is to acquire the Holy Spirit at all costs, so that we might achieve the likeness of Christ, since we have received His image. As He has become our Suffering Servant by ascending the Way of the Cross, so also must we become His servants, and the servants of our fellow man.

What remains for us is to witness to the world concerning the truth of this Suffering Servant ... the truth of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. What remains for us is to serve the world by being Orthodox, by being Christian. When the world asks us to change our message ... when the world asks us to change the ways of Tradition and to change the expectations of holiness and righteousness ... when the world demands modification and modernization, and the adoption of trends and innovations ...

... we respond with charity, and gently refuse: because we know that serving the world requires that we not become the world. Serving the family of man requires that we point man to paradise. Serving our fellow man requires that we give up our own demands for prestige, for power and influence, for getting our way.

Serving our fellow man and each other requires that we become like the Son of Man Who came not to be served, but to serve.

This is the theme of these sessions of the Diocesan Sobor: if the Son of Man poured out Himself to serve, then we who are of His inheritance must serve as well. He has called us, the ekklesia, into His own Mystical Body, and our community is a holy, supernatural one. It is a fellowship, a koinonia or sobornost - it is a fellowship of servanthood that reflects the Grace of the Holy Trinity.

In these next few days, the Son of Man calls us all to follow Him in servanthood. So let us show kindness to one another. Let us be gracious and merciful. Let us treat each other with the greatest respect and honor. Let us be patient with eccentricities and limitations. Let the world know that our fellowship is bound together with cords of love, forgiveness and grace.

We can achieve this only when we sacrifice ego and personal agenda. There are some who wish for the old days when there was a lot of intensity, controversy and tumult. In fact, I have heard some say that the shouting matches of the past made for a far more entertaining spectacle.

But that is exactly what it was: a spectacle - a spectacle that confirmed the world's lack of respect for the Church, and a spectacle that discouraged our younger generations. I count it an achievement that today, this Diocese treats issues with careful deliberation. It is a mark of success and maturity that we can discuss and even disagree with quiet courtesy. We are showing to the world and to the next generation that today, we value wisdom, tradition, courtesy and honor.

In the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, we are required to always ask ourselves, "What legacy are we leaving the next generation? What memories will they have of us, as we enter eternity, and they take up leadership in their own right?"

Of course, we hope that our children and grandchildren will remember that we were servants of Christ, and of the Orthodox Church. We hope that they will remember that we were gracious and kind, and true to the Tradition of the Apostles. We hope that they will think on us as being always prepared to set aside our ego for the sake of other people. We hope that they will be inspired by our servanthood, our forgiveness and love.

For is this not what we remember of Our Lord, the Servant of Man? We are mindful of Him, and in each of the images of His ministry we see Someone Who came to serve, and not to be served. We see Him on the Cross. We see Him opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, strengthening the legs of the lame, opening the minds of unbelief, forgiving the pollution of sinners.

Do we not see Him most clearly, as a Servant, when He bent down, at the Last Mystical Supper, to wash the feet of His disciples? Do we not see Him as a Servant, when He took upon Himself the service of a household slave?

And do we not hear Him call us to the same service? For He said, "Do you know what I have done to you? If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (John 13.12-15).

In these next few days, in this session of the Diocesan Sobor, let us remember, with awe and devotion, that we serve a "Footwashing God," the Son of Man Who came to serve mankind.

It is the least we can do to serve Him, and each other, as He so ineffably, wondrously, unexpectedly served us.


(Archpastoral Homily at the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy  for
  the Commencement of the Sobor-July 10, 2006)