The Most Reverend Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 18, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45

I recall a story once told me about a nurse in a hospital.  Probably one of the most difficult things about being a nurse is the unpredictability of the patients.  It seems in this case there was a patient who was very difficult and the assistant was having a rough time putting the patient back to bed.  The duty nurse was called in.  The patient had huddled in the corner of the room, with her knees up to her chin and her hands wrapped around them.  She wouldn’t budge.  The nurse walked over to the stubborn patient, extended her hands, and began to pick her up.  At that point, the patient picked up her hand and slapped the nurse across the face.  There was a pause.  The nurse took a deep breath and said, “Honey, is there anything else I can do for you?”  That nurse knew what it meant to be a servant.

In the Gospel of today Jesus is asked for a privilege by two of his apostles.  They want to sit on his right and left in the kingdom.  The Lord then takes this opportunity to teach an important lesson.  If you want to follow Him, you must be willing to serve and that may require suffering and persecution.  The symbol of suffering in the Gospel was the “cup.”  So Jesus asks, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” (Mark 10:38).   In other words, the question should be not what is in it for me but rather can I give of myself.  “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

I would suggest to you that this is “hard talk”, especially for us in the contemporary world.  Mention of being a “servant” and “slave” does not meet with receptivity these days.  The terms carry “baggage” with them, and this is perfectly understandable.  Yet, Jesus said it, and we should face the truth of what He was asking us to do.

What Jesus taught and the nurse in the hospital understood was that a Christian must be ready for anything.  To accomplish this one must have the mind of a servant.  To be a servant is to give of oneself.  To be a slave is to give of oneself completely. 

Once many years ago, I was trying to explain to an employee of a church parish what her duties would require.  I said, “Remember that you are a servant.”  “A servant,” she replied, “I am no servant.”  “Well, then,” I said, “you will never understand what it means to work in the church because that is what we all are, servants.” 

Have you ever walked into a store before and no one came to assist you?  If that happens too often, you will never return.  It is called having good service, and when you do not find it, you look for it elsewhere.  Have you ever gone to a restaurant and had the server introduce himself, sit down next to you, ask about your family, and then hand you the pad and pencil to write down your order?  I can assure you, if it happened, it would probably be the last time you went to eat there. 

Jesus’ life was a gift of service, and He wasn’t afraid to call Himself exactly what He was, “a servant.”  The pope, for example, as the Vicar of Christ on earth has many titles.  They all tell us who he is.  One title is most revealing:  “Servus servorum Dei”, “Servant of the servants of God.”  He serves the servants.  We are servants too.  Jesus was such a good servant that His very life was a servant offering.  He teaches us that we must be the same, offering our lives in service.

A great poet described hell once, and when he came to describing Lucifer, he placed these words in his mouth, “I will not serve.”  That is an important commentary.  To reject the vocation of “servant” is to reject the call each of us has to imitate Christ.  The loving embrace of the will of God is found in the daily acceptance of those moments in which we are called to serve Christ and Christ in others.  We like the nurse in the story can only ask, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”