My wife and I joke about my position as I help her through her recovery from surgery. Since I am, in essence, waiting on her hand and foot, we have joked about me being her slave. If she needs to go anywhere, I am her “slave driver.” Of course, when she needs to exercise and I remind her about it when she doesn’t want to exercise, I am her “slave driver.”
When you think about America’s history with slavery, that may seem insensitive. Slavery as practiced prior to the Civil War was brutal and inhumane. Slavery continues to be practiced today in ways that are invisible to most people. There is a dark, hidden part of society where human beings are bought and sold to be used for the worst purposes imaginable. How, then, can I make a light-hearted reference to slavery? How can a follower of Christ see slavery as anything but horrible? And it’s in that vein that the words of Jesus shock us into thought. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—“ (Matthew 20:26-27)
It was said that once in the Roman Senate a Senator proposed a special kind of clothing to denote people who were slaves so that freedmen would know who they were dealing with. The proposal died because they suddenly realized that all the slaves would realize how many of them actually were slaves and it might cause trouble. Slavery during the days of Jesus was much different than slavery in the Americas before the Civil War, and much different from current forms of slavery. Nevertheless, the words of Jesus shock our sensibilities. The shock is even more intense when we understand that Jesus was talking about being seen as great. When we think of great people we think of CEOs, entertainment stars, sports stars, members of the military, or teachers. We don’t put custodians, dishwashers, waiters/waitresses, or gardeners on that list, let alone anyone that might be considered a slave. Yet, that is the call of Jesus for each of us if we seek to be considered great. I don’t imagine that becoming a slave will make us seem great to world leaders, or even our friends. They’ll take advantage of us. They’ll talk about us behind our back. And if we focus on what others think, we will avoid anything that smacks of subservience towards others. We don’t want to lose face. On the other hand, if we see things through God’s eyes, we will realize that we are serving God by serving others.
If you’re reading this, you may be a product of “the American Dream.” You may have fought the rat race to get to the head of your profession. You have gained the respect of those you respect. And then, the words of Jesus break through your world. “Become a servant. Even more so, become a slave.” It is the most unfathomable advice you could imagine. There is a meme going around that people can tell what kind of a person you are by the way you treat those who would be considered “beneath” you. Jesus would amend that thought by reminding you that there is no one beneath you. It is only as you serve others; it is only as you become a slave to others that you actually live as if you believe that.
Oh Lord, why didn’t You tell me that I could achieve greatness by controlling others? Why couldn’t my greatness be measured by the number of people who served me? Your words are hard, Lord, but I want my relationship with You to grow more and more each day. Help me to serve others as You would. Help me to humble myself to become like a slave so that as I serve others, they would see Your grace.