Jesus, even from the earliest days of his ministry, asked his followers to become the eyes, ears hands and feet of His father, to show mercy and compassion to the very least among us. This was, in fact, a unique hallmark of his mission – to improve the lives of those who are vulnerable, experience challenge, and suffer. More so, he wanted to bring an understanding to all that it was these “very least among us” who would be welcomed into eternity first. Jesus sought a profound role reversal where the first would be last and vice versa.
Occasionally, we encounter the idea that we are compelled to serve… “or else”, that it’s a commandment and requirement, that we should do as Jesus tells us in this regard or suffer an eternal damnation. I would not argue against this logic, but as a professional manager for almost 40 years, I have gained some experience and insight into the kinds of leadership styles that work best over the long haul. If you are a manager that demands something from those entrusted to your care “or else”, then in my experience, those kinds of managers flame out. They might get great results, especially at first, but over time… resentment builds up and people eventually grow weary of the approach. People are more motivated by understanding purpose, camaraderie with peers, and finding meaning in their work.
I don’t want to diminish the idea of there being a judgement day, but I myself see something else in the call to serve. I see love. The love of a parent for the collective family. The love of a parent for the individual child. I take at face value the fact that Jesus taught us about his father, his Abba – his daddy – and used metaphors such as a shepherd searching for the one lost sheep or a father welcoming home a prodigal child. I think there can be both a parent who needs to be demanding while also doing every single thing possible, while giving us every chance we need, to be found and to come home.
Service is, to me, about love. It’s about compassion. And it is about mercy. And since we are very much the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Christ, then the service we do to the least among us can’t help but be an extension of that love, compassion and mercy. It all makes complete sense.
But here’s the thing: Jesus knows our inclinations. He understands human nature. Left to our own devices, we protect ourselves, take care of our own, make sure our own basic needs are met. We do this and social scientists can speak volumes on why this is so. But unfortunately, left to our own devices, we can go too far in this direction. Become self-oriented. Start to see ourselves as the epicenter of a universe of our own making. We can too easily begin to think about our surroundings solely through the lens of how those things help us or hurt us. We can become selfish. In some ways, this is human nature.
But Christ calls us to go beyond our human nature, to understand that we are crafted and created for more than a singular, linear, two-dimensional life on a timeline that begins with birth and ends with death. We are called to be more than simply this. We are meant to endure, to persist, to realize that we are accompanied by a savior when we are alive so that we can be accompanied by him after that too.
Asking us to serve is asking us to forget, to the extent we possibly can, our own human nature. To think beyond ourselves and to consider the plight of others. We may do this more easily for those who we love, but Jesus asks us to do this also for those who we do not. Those he describes as the least among us. If we can do this, then we can be saved because this elevates us, lifts us beyond the bonds of our molecules and cells and any two-dimensional timeline we are thrust upon. We ascend toward divinity. Yes, the lowly created things that we are can dare to soar. Why? Because he loves us. Because he is compassionate toward us. Because he is merciful to us. How do we know this? Because he asks us to serve.