27th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 2 October 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Habbakkuk 1: 2-3, 2: 2-4; Responsorial: Psalm 95; II: II Timothy 1: 6, 13-14; Gospel: Luke: 17: 5-10
The concept of “being in service” speaks of a time from generations ago. The immense popularity of shows such as Downton Abbey is one indication of the very real fascination with the structures and expectations of life, “in service”. The intricate structure and order of life in the royal palaces of England observed in glimpses during the mourning for Queen Elizabeth also revealed this intense interest held by many in our current culture where vestiges of times past may still be known.
Any objective look at a servant’s life in times past would reveal a life of grueling work, long hours, and very little benefit in wages or “career development”. The very rigid social structures maintained a framework that was virtually impossible from which to advance beyond one’s station in life. The expectations, restrictions, and social prejudices were experienced from childhood to the grave.
In many ways, we are very blessed and fortunate to have the freedoms we have had for generations that have increased for children, women, and men. Sadly the flow of those freedoms has not been equitable for all but one cannot deny the currents of freedom and possibilities have grown significantly for all.
Yet with this evolution of social and cultural structures and expectations, there has been lost an understanding and awareness of aspects, and vocations of life that are still very real and needed. We speak of public servants. There are those who work in food services, emergency services, and domestic services. But for most these are jobs of specific hours and limited expressions. It is perhaps most seen in the work and lives of those involved in clerical states we see the strongest remnants of servants of the past. But while the structures and expectations of the past have changed certain matters have not. The need to understand and fulfill our duties in life, however suppressed by some, are still very real.
So it is, as Christians, as followers of Jesus we are challenged to enter into a relationship that is in so many ways foreign in our lives today. To hear and follow “The Servants Call” is an immense grace and holy privilege. Yet whether restricted by our outdated perceptions of service or understandings that this only applies to those with “a vocation” we are all called to grow in this liberating and joyful call.
But sadly among Christians today if we were to survey the focus of understanding from our Bible readings for this Mass we might well see a focus on personal benefit. And this would be legitimate, to a limited degree. There are indeed clear blessings and promises given in the Scriptures today (and always). But the much broader and vibrant context brings us to realize there is so much more to which we are called. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
The first and second Scripture readings, with the Responsorial Psalm each, speak of the hard challenges faced by the servants of God. The discouragement of Habakkuk the prophet, the exhortation of the psalmist to “harden not your hearts” in the places of testing, and St. Paul’s encouragements to the young priest and servant, Timothy all testify that being a servant of God is hard work. It brings great struggles and times when we are called to serve well beyond our feelings so that we may grow strong in our faith.
But it is in the context of our reading of Luke’s gospel (chapter 17) we especially realize the immensity of the work to which God’s servants are called. The apostles cry out to Jesus “Increase our faith!” Why are they so suddenly fervent in their need? Jesus has been showing them that as Christians, as his servants they (and we) are to be a people of healing, of mercy, of…forgiveness! To be a servant of God means that we are to feed the hungry soul, cleanse the soiled sojourner, and heal the wounded warriors. The struggling pilgrim is to find welcome and hope in God, in us. And Jesus makes clear the faith that is needed and that will bring His holy help, his response. Faith the size of a mustard seed.
Part of the encouragement St. Paul shares with Timothy is the reminder: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control”. Being a servant is immensely demanding. It is hard work. It requires a true denial of selfishness and ego. It is a calling well beyond our personal resources and abilities. The cook in a great house of Britain would never have had to provide and cook the grand meals from her own pocket or by herself. She was a vital, integral part of a team of servants who, in their services for the master utilized the place and resources of the master at their disposal. Being a servant brings us to learn, it isn’t about us. It is about the master. As servants of our Lord, it is about God, about Jesus. At Mass, the servant of the cup, the deacon (or priest if a deacon is not present) quietly prays in preparing the chalice: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. This mystery, this eternal grace of God, is shared with the faithful through God’s servants, through the Servant Jesus Christ.
The faithful are all called to be servants of God. For some, it may be holy orders. For many, it may be in the sacrament of marriage and family life. For all of us, it is to be a people who seek to listen and serve Him who calls us to serve, to love as He does for each of us.