Have you heard the joke about Walmart? It goes like this: Due to poor holiday sales, Walmart has decided to close 500 of their super-centers in the U.S. Because of these closings, up to 10 cashiers may lose their jobs.
Those like me that prefer having a human being as a cashier certainly can get a chuckle from that one. When I’m shopping there (or anywhere that has self-checkouts, to be fair), I marvel, and sometimes grumble, that only two lanes are staffed while the do-it-yourself area teems with people.
Our culture has certainly become convenience driven. Not only can we check out our groceries without help, when’s the last time you actually stepped inside a bank or have even written a check, for that matter. Our paychecks are directly deposited and our bills are paid with electronic fund transfers. Also for my ease, with credit/debit card in hand, I can purchase almost any item I want on line. Just the other day I ordered flowers for my wife, found and purchased a book I was wanting to read and bought a steamer to help me remove wallpaper, all from the comfort of my office at home. Self-serve is simply an accepted way to do things these days.
Please understand me, I have no problem using these modern conveniences. They save me time and hassles. The greater concern I have for me and others is this: with all the self-serve options available to us, am I/are we losing the sense of what it means to serve others? To be sure, this isn’t really a new problem for humankind. Though they didn’t have the world available through their electronic devices, even the disciples who followed Jesus when He walked the earth struggled with this ‘serve me first’ mentality.
In Mark’s gospel, Chapter 10:35-40 we find two of them, James and John, selfishly asking Jesus for special treatment in the age to come. They wanted to sit at either side of the Lord when He took His seat in heaven. Truly a brazen request. My first thought was this: Did they think this was a ‘first come, first served situation? I liken it to those hearty souls who camp-out over night to get in line to purchase the best seats for a big concert.
In His wisdom, Jesus deals with James and John diplomatically. He tells them that what they ask is not for Him to give and that they really don’t understand what it is they are asking for in the first place.
The other ten disciples are less kind when they get wind of the request that was made by their peers. The bible says they were indignant that such a bold thing could be asked. I wonder if part of their anger was that they didn’t think to ask first?
Whatever the case, Jesus uses the situation to do some wonderfully clear teaching on what it means to be a servant. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44 NIV) In essence, Jesus’ message to the disciples is this: You need to take your accepted notions of what you think you deserve or have earned and turn them upside down. Serving is to be the goal and purpose of life, not being served.
To make sure His point was being understood, the Lord added, “For even 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) Here, Jesus ups the ante, if you will. He reminds them of who He truly is, the Son of God. Yet His heavenly position is not used to demand their praise and worship, rather it is a springboard to fulfill the Father’s purpose. Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to be a servant. In truth, He is the ultimate servant, for He willingly suffered and died at the hands of men so that the Father’s salvation plan would be made known.
The call of servant-hood for every follower of Jesus Christ ought to daily move our hearts with compassion when considered in the light of what the Son of God has done for us all. He, who deserves all our honor, praise and worship simply because of who He is, opted to set that all aside so that He could model what a servant’s heart looks like and who it is we are to serve. Jesus served out of love and obedience to His Father. Our one true purpose in this life is to follow His example.
How we do that will look different for each of us, but their will be a common thread running through it all: Serve others above serving ourselves. To do so we must break free of our self-serve mentality. Of course your time and schedule are important. But are they so vital as to the exclusion of everything and everyone around you? Take Jesus’ instruction to heart in practical ways. Stop and look around you. If you do, I guarantee you will see places and people where you can be a servant. I’m not saying you will see it in the checkout line that is seven deep, but then again, maybe you will!