10th April 2001. St Stephenís
Monday in Holy Week
The word "servant" crops up a good many times in the readings for Holy Week.
Nowadays itís rare to meet anyone who claims to be somebodyís "servant", though as recently as 50 years ago it was quite usual.
We shouldnít listen to those who say that being a servant was necessarily degrading. Of course there were, and always have been, bad masters as well as good ones (and good and bad servants for that matter!); but there are many worse things in life than being a servant in a well-run, benevolent and Christian household. In the past it provided many people with a springboard into the wider world, enabling them to grow into independent, respected and successful citizens in a way that nothing else would have done.
The gospel which we have just heard tells us about three different servants of God: Judas Iscariot, Mary the sister of Martha, and Jesus himself. One of them was perfect; one made good; and one went morally to pieces.
Take Judas first, the moral shipwreck. As a servant and disciple he was trusted to keep the accounts, but ended up by fiddling them for his own interests.
Was he always a petty crook? Maybe; but my guess is that he took on the job with great enthusiasm and diligence. However then he began to get bored and disillusioned about it. Judas was an impatient man, perhaps, who got exasperated by the stupidity of his fellow apostles.
How clearly he, Judas, could see what Jesus was getting at as he taught them! What more natural then than that Jesus should promote Judas, after proving himself a good treasurer, to be the Leader of the whole show.
Yet what did Jesus do? He chose Peter, of all people, to be in charge! Peter, that mindless, ill-educated, impetuous Galilean fisherman who (unlike Judas) couldnít even be trusted to add two and two together and make four of them.! And as for the way that Jesus and the others seemed to expect him as their Treasurer to produce money out of thin air to pay for all their extravagances, who did they think he was?
No. The whole show he could now see was heading for the rocks. What alternative had any sensible man but to jump ship before it was too late? The tragedy was that he was the one who was wrecked by doing so.
Next think of Mary the sister of Martha. Thereís some reason to believe that she was a girl whom Jesus had literally rescued from the gutter and restored her back to her family at Bethany. Whether thatís so or not, we know that she poured out what was probably her lifeís savings, that most treasured possession the alabaster box of ointment over the feet of Jesus as a gesture of her love and gratitude towards him.
We can imagine, canít we, the effect of this emotional outburst upon Judas? More extravagance! More waste of money!
Mary, however, by taking upon herself the role of servant of the Servant of God, was the one who earned Jesusís approval rather than Judas. "She has done a good thing for me", he said. "In her own way she has identified herself with my forthcoming death and burial. Her self-abasement as a humble servant foreshadows what I shall have to do in a few daysí time.".
Thirdly, Jesus, the Suffering Servant himself. He was, and is, the Eternally-begotten Son of the Father and yet, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, "though he was a Son from the beginning he learnt obedience by the things that he suffered". Or in the words of St Paul to the Philippians "he took upon himself the form of a servant, humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross".
Did you notice that word obedience in both those passages? Like the word "servant", "obedience" today doesnít enjoy the respect which it once did. However, until you and I have learnt to obey Godís will, whether it means doing something we think is much too hard for us or, on the other hand, something so simple as to be beneath our dignity, we shall never make any progress in Godís household to which through our baptism we belong.
For progress is what being a Christian is really all about. Because Godís intention isnít, and never was, that Mankind should be nothing better than his humble servants. On the contrary, from the very beginning he intended us to be his sons, fellow-heirs with his Son, Jesus Christ, in his heavenly Kingdom.
However, the only way that God can turn us into the kind of sons he intended us to be is by the painful process of our first of all learning to behave ourselves as his obedient servants. Strange though it may seem, the only way to progress, to grow taller in the Kingdom of Heaven, is for us to learn how to bow lower.
What a pity Judas Iscariot never learnt that lesson. It might have made all the difference to him!
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