(The following thoughts begin a three-part look at the theme: Servanthood among Christians. The subject may fea ture some unusual edges that are worth exploring,)
This theological catch-phrase seems to have wide acceptance currently: We are called to be servants. Scriptures seem to invite that identity and it makes sense: Love your neighbor as yourself. Serve others as Jesus served. Let the greatest among you be a servant.
Remember, though, that many biblical images for “servant” are perhaps better understood as “slave,” in our times not an acceptable self-identity. Another difficulty: the actual lifestyles of servants/slaves in ancient cultures. Slaves were engaged by rich people to carry out their commands. Servants didn’t necessarily choose servile behavior—they were forced into servitude by circumstances over which they had no control. A quick check of Jesus’ parables shows the relationships between slaves/servants and wealthy people. (See Matthew 20:1-16, Luke 16:1-13 or Luke 19:11-27 as examples.)
Servants carried out the whims and wishes of the rich. Their lives were dependent primarily on obedience to their employers. Willingly or not, they participated in a continuing economic system that benefitted primarily those who were super-rich. They were totally bound to those who literally owned them.
In Scripture, many servants were—like Jesus—suffering servants. They were victims of corruption, oppression and evil. They labored under unjust notions of work. They suffered physical and emotional abuse, and may have been trapped in generations of servitude.
However, the Bible also includes some stories of how servants influenced their owners/masters towards good deeds. (As one example, see 2 Kings 5:1-19, the story the advice King Naaman received from his wife’s servant girl.) In these cases, under-rated underlings thwarted evil or ignorance, sometimes rescuing their masters’ lives.
Perhaps we need to expand our understanding of the realities and the costs associated with a role we presume to be required of us as God’s people.
As eyes-wide-open people…?
Next time: Servitude today?
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