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Humbly Serving One Another

Fr. Luke A. Veronis

The other day I watched a nurse gently take the socks off of an elderly patient and begin to massage their feet and then carefully rub them with lotion. The tender way in which the nurse spoke with her patient, carefully taking off the socks, lovingly addressing her patient the entire time so that she would not feel embarrassed, and truly making the patient feel that she really wanted to be doing what she was doing, touched me in a special way. I got the sense that the nurse truly cared about what she was doing. This was not simply a job to her, but a tender act of love.

Watching this interaction made me think about Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever desires to be first in the group must be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44) Humbly and lovingly serving one another is a sign of greatness in the eyes of God. We’re not talking about serving another for any type of recognition. We’re not talking about serving another grudgingly out of a sense of duty.

We have amazing examples of this during our present crisis, when we see so many courageous and sacrificial frontline health workers, risking their lives to help and save others. These are the true heroes who understand Christ’s words “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.” (John 15:13) These men and women are ready to lay down their lives even for a stranger!

We are seeing what greatness truly is! It is not accumulating wealth or power or fame. Greatness comes through humble service to others. Jesus emphasized that our service to others should come solely out of our love for them; serving others with humility, while preserving their dignity and honor; serving others solely because we want to imitate our Master and treat others the way He treated them. We want to love others because God has first loved us, and filled us with His divine love, making such acts of kindness and love our normal behavior. As followers of Jesus Christ, we wash the feet of others and offer our lives for others because it is a part of our DNA, a central part of who we are as Christians.

Too often in society, those who hold a certain position, or those who have power typically expect others to wait on them and to serve them. We often work our way up a ladder of “success” so that we are in a higher position than others, so that we can expect others to listen to us and serve us. This is often seen as a sign in our fallen world of how we have succeeded in society.

Living under the reign of Christ, however, has a completely different perspective on success. Living under the ways of God’s Kingdom turns the world’s expectations upside down. True authority in God’s eyes compels us to serve others out of love and in humility. The closer we draw near to Christ doesn’t mean we become prouder, it implies we humbly become more like our Master, a servant who compassionately reached out to all those who came to Him, even washed the feet of his closest followers, and then offered His life for the entire world!

We all remember this most beautiful story which we will commemorate it in another two weeks on Holy Thursday, when Jesus offered His final words to his closest disciples. He gathered together with His friends to celebrate the Passover meal, and at the meal He “laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded Himself, and then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:4-5)

Even though the 12 disciples had lived with Jesus for three years, listening to all his teachings and watching the way He compassionately interacted with all those He encountered, still they were shocked to see Jesus get up from dinner and do the work of a slave by washing their dirty feet. Peter was so confused and shocked that he initially refused to allow Christ to disgrace Himself in front of his friends. Yet this act of humility and love exemplified the divine mission of Christ; it set an example the disciples would never forget. “Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus taught. “You call me teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 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 should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15)

I’m sure the disciples never forgot that example! Greatness in God’s eyes comes from serving others. Power in God’s eyes comes through humbling ourselves before others. Thinking we deserve others to serve us has no place in the Christian life. Any egocentric pride leads us away from God. Humility is the central virtue that always draws us closer towards our Creator, and humble service leads us down the path of Christ. Truly serving others in a Christ-like manner implies sincerely caring about others and treating all people, but especially the most marginalized of society, with dignity and respect.

“I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was naked. I was in need. Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sister, you did to Me.” Christ calls us to serve others, especially those in need, and in the process, we achieve greatness by serving Him in the disguise of the needy.

This concept of joyfully and humbly serving others out of selfless love may seem confusing for our modern world, and yet it stands at the heart of our Christian life! “I have come not to be served, but to serve others,” Jesus said, “and to give my life as a ransom for others.”

May we remember this crucial and central lesson of our faith as we continue through these uncertain and fearful days of this pandemic. We are seeing greatness in the example of those who are serving others boldly, courageously, sacrificially, and lovingly.

Humbly and lovingly serving one another is the sign of true greatness in the eyes of God!