Proper 22, 2 October 2022
Many foreigners on YouTube say positive things about Filipinos. Despite our imperfect English, we try our best to communicate with them. We are very hospitable: when someone comes to our house uninvited, we prepare a meal for them. Filipinos are great servants; we have exported workers (some cruise ships have thousands), and we go beyond what we’re asked to do. We should not forget the positive aspects of our culture.
Many people say that receiving is better than giving, but the Bible says it is better to give than to receive. Many say that to be served is better than serving; again, the Bible says otherwise. In the 1980s, fast food courts became popular in the Philippines, and with them came the idea of self-service: you take your tray, utensils, and food; and after eating, you return what you have used. Unfortunately, society has adopted a self-serving attitude. Anyone would prefer to be a master rather than a servant; but in the Kingdom of God, those who desire to become sons must first become servants.
“Lord, increase our faith!”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples to be servants of the Kingdom; it also points to Him as the Suffering Servant described by Isaiah. In the first part of the chapter, Jesus warned against being a stumbling-block; then He said that if someone offends you, you need to forgive up to seven times.[i] Because of these hard sayings, the disciples exclaimed,
“Lord, increase our faith!”[ii]
Yesterday’s Daily Office reading was about loving your enemies, and I can imagine the disciples’ response being the same. When God bids us do something beyond us, He may be giving us an opportunity to increase our faith. When He asks you to do something beyond your ability, or brings you out of your comfort zone, don’t say “no” – let us follow the words of the disciples.
Such an increase of one’s faith is entirely dependent upon the grace of God by His Holy Spirit to receive the gift of faith; and it is not in quantity but quality. Jesus said,
“if you have faith as big as a mustard seed, you can say to a mulberry tree, be planted in the sea”[iii]
– which is quite impossible.
Called to serve
Then Jesus talks about serving God. David Wilkerson[iv] said,
“When God calls you to something, He is not always calling you to succeed – He’s calling you to obey! The success of the calling is up to Him; the obedience is up to you.”
The Bible is filled with master and servant stories, such as the parable of the talents.
Jesus speaks about a servant who goes to the field, then in the evening, after working very hard, goes home to eat his meal. His master, waiting for him, is not really concerned about the well-being of the tired servant, but asks the servant to serve him. Rather than inviting the servant to sit at the table, the master would rather tell him to prepare his food; he is a servant. Is the master grateful? It’s something the servant is supposed to do. Is the servant happy? Perhaps not.
In this difficult reading, Jesus identifies with His disciples, and not with the master. Servants should carry out what they are commanded to do without complaining or a sense of entitlement. The Lord is preparing His disciples for the missionary task ahead, which they are to carry out as servants of God. Saint Paul described himself as
“a servant of God, called as an apostle”;[v]
he always started with being a servant. This is what Jesus was saying. He was preparing them for the task in the Kingdom of God: ploughing to spread the Kingdom, tending sheep as pastors, and being ready to wait on (as waiters) or serve everyone who came their way. Not long afterwards, our Lord would Himself demonstrate how far He was willing to serve by obeying the Father, and then serving us by giving His life on the cross. Paul said that God
became a slave, and served humanity.[vi] God does not ask you and me to do something He has not done Himself.
Be a servant of God
In the Philippines, until about three decades ago, a priest or a nun in the family was the pride of the family – but not today. Times have changed; many people pursue a career to feed themselves and their family. This must have been exacerbated by “self-service”. The world tells us, “Serve yourself first before others. Think about yourself first before others. If you serve God, you will become poor.” But if God is your employer and you are His employee, He will never lay you off. You can lay yourself off, but God will never fire you. God is the best employer, and He is your security. If God is calling you to serve in some capacity, please do not say “no”; rather, say, like the disciples, “Lord, increase my faith, that I might serve You the way You want me to serve You”. In the great scheme of things, whether you are a bishop, priest, deacon, an architect, or someone who works in homes, you are a servant of God when everything you do is dedicated for His glory; but there are those who are called to serve in a very specific sense.
Pope Francis said,
“If the Lord is knocking at the door of your heart, do not put a sign on the door saying ‘Do not disturb’.”
Is God calling you to something? Have we delayed? Delayed obedience means delayed blessing. We are all servants of God, and we don’t desire a reward on earth, because the reward that is in store for us in heaven is greater. When the disciples said,
“We have given up everything. What will we receive in return?”
He said, “Don’t worry: you will be rewarded for what you do.” The reward set before us is greater, and it is eternal.
Have we adopted the attitude of serving oneself? If I serve myself, the blessing is myself; if I serve God, I have a greater blessing. God has called every single one of us as His servants. Even though sometimes He asks us to do something that is beyond us, don’t close the door or put a sign saying “Do not disturb” – simply say, “Lord, increase my faith”; because to serve God in whatever capacity He has called you is the greatest privilege in life. I ask the young people: Have you heard the world and perhaps even parents say, “Don’t serve God: there’s no money there”? We have missed it: we’ve adopted the thinking about serving self. But God is asking us to recognise that serving Him is better. If we’ve listened too much to the ways of the world, it’s time to say “Lord, I’m sorry if I said no”, and, “Lord, increase my faith”; never say “no” to God.
Though Jesus was the Son of God before His incarnation, He showed us in His humanity that to become sons of God we need to learn to become servants, and we need to serve God with our talents, time, and treasure. Serving God is better than serving self. That’s why He said, “If you want to know life, deny yourself, come and follow Me” – not to lose our own personality and individuality, but the life we’re seeking can only be found in Christ.
Jesus is the answer
Recently I conducted the funeral of a long-serving member. Often, especially in times of difficulty, we ask God why. I’ve learned in my walk with Christ when life is perplexing and difficult to understand, not to ask Jesus why. God will never give you the answer, because He is the answer. You need to embrace Christ when things in life are difficult to understand. When things are every difficult, I stare at the cross and let God the Holy Spirit speak to me. You will have an epiphany. God may not lead you to the answer, but you will understand in a different or deeper way what life is all about. If we have life and Jesus came to give us life, that means we did not have life; He came to give us a better life. Everything in this life is temporary; people come and go. It’s sad when people die, but even queens die. When you play chess there are rooks, bishops, queens, and kings; but when the game is over, everyone is put in the same place. That’s life. But death is not the end; it’s a passage for a new beginning. If God is calling you to serve Him, this is the time not to say, “Do not disturb me”, but “Lord, increase my faith”
Father, You sent Your Son to serve us on the cross. We don’t deserve it at all, but our Lord gave His life in service, that we might have life. Why is it so hard for us to reciprocate in serving You? Help us in our unbelief and lack of faith, and in our wrong priorities: we have listened too much to the ways of the world. Help us to utter such words as, “Lord, increase our faith”, that we might serve You.
If God is calling You to serve Him – or perhaps He called you before and you may have forgotten because you have been to the food court many times – this is the time to say, “Yes, Lord, I want to serve You in whatever capacity You are calling me to serve, because today I realise that serving You is the greatest privilege in life.”
Lord, we acknowledge You as our Creator, and that we are Your creation. We acknowledge You as the Master and Lord of all, and we are Your servants – notwithstanding that the Master Himself came to serve those who are least, lost, and lonely. Lord, increase our faith; give us a heart to serve You for Your honour and glory. If we can serve man, we can serve You even more.
- Do you serve yourself before others or put others ahead of yourself? Do you prefer to serve or to be served? Why?
- When God calls you to do something beyond your ability, or something you find difficult, do you say “no”, or have faith that He will enable you to do it?
- Do you always like the things your employer or manager at work asks you to do, or enjoy doing them? How important is it? What about the things God asks you to do?
- Do you expect to be thanked or rewarded when you serve God? What is your attitude if no one thanks you or appreciates what you have done?
- How has God in Christ served you, and how have you responded?
- Do you value more highly your family members’ service to God, or their working to earn an income? Which have you encouraged them to do more?
- Would you rather serve God for His glory in the ministry and work to which He has called you, or advance your career and increase your income? How is this reflected in the way you use your talents, time, and treasure? Do you regard serving God as a privilege, or as something less?
- Can you trust God that when you serve Him as He calls you to, He will provide for you and your family?
- Are you seeking the blessing that comes from your work in the world, or the blessing that comes from serving God? Are you seeking a reward on earth or in heaven?
- Have you delayed responding to God’s calling? Are you willing for God to call you to serve Him in a greater way, or to change your vocation, if He chooses to do so?
- Are you experiencing the life that comes through denying yourself and following Jesus? How does this relate to the choices you make about serving God?
- Have you learned to embrace Christ and the cross when life is difficult and there are things you don’t understand? What happens when you do so?
[i] Luke 17:1-4
[ii] Luke 17:5
[iii] Luke 17:6
[iv] An evangelical pastor in New York, known for The cross and the switchblade
[v] see Romans 1:1, Titus 1:1
[vi] Philippians 2:6-8