Some of the students in one of my recent classes took me to task over this notion. Should they not take the role of humble servants, setting aside their privilege to live common lives among the poor? Isn’t that what it means to serve? To follow Jesus’ example of laying aside his position of power and privilege to take on the form of a servant? To live among the poor and disparate as one of them?
It’s a good question, isn’t it? Yet, even the fact that some of us have choices, sets us apart from those who don’t.
Shane Claiborne, of the Simple Way, is a good example of a young man from privilege, with a Wheaton College education, who set aside aspirations to accrue wealth and power to live in an impoverished community in Philadelphia and join his companions in making their own clothing and diving in dumpsters for food. He uses his power in crafting the English language to give compelling voice to the lives and struggles of the poor through his speaking and writing. Many in my neighborhood would have difficulty bridging cultural worlds like he does. They lack the educational background and access to a broader network to ever impact the world like he does. He is powerfully using his privilege on behalf of the poor.
The mother of two of Jesus’ disciples wanted to ensure that her sons would have powerful positions when she asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and left hand in the kingdom. As a mother, I understand that. Who doesn’t want their kids to be great? To be acknowledged and recognized for their achievements?
Jesus never reprimanded her or her boys for wanting to be great. He just gently turned the tables on the definition of true greatness with his answer. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-27)
I love that my students are wrestling with this question. I’m sure that some of them will become attorneys who will draft legislation and run for office, others will become doctors and teachers among the poor. Some will run businesses and finance firms that will generate revenue that they will pass on to incubate community and economic development projects and support ministries in impoverished communities throughout the world. I love their passion for justice and their desire to follow Jesus with radical abandon.
We are indeed, all called to serve, to give our lives for a greater cause, whether we head corporations and governments or pick up the dying in the streets of Calcutta.
Nelson Mandela, in his 1994 inaugural address quoted Marianne Williamson’s beautiful words below:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.