The Challenge of Being Served

By Joe LaVela

Today, Maundy Thursday, Jesus washes the Apostles’ feet in order to set for them an example of how they are to serve.  At the same time, he made them practice being served, a difficult lesson since we are so often reluctant to accept assistance from others.  Why is that?  Perhaps we are too proud to admit we need help, or so proud as to believe that whatever it is, we can do it better ourselves.  Or, we may feel unworthy to be served.  Potential reasons abound.  But Jesus would not let them say no to his offer.  None of them would have been able to beg him off saying “No, I’m good,” or “Thanks, but I can manage my own feet.”  No, when Peter resists, Jesus tells him plainly, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

Now, in the midst of our current upheaval, we strive to find ways to help.  CCC in response devotes a webpage called Church at Home, which lists ways to serve others during the pandemic.  Underlying this is one of our deepest yearnings as human beings:  to be needed, to be useful, to have our lives matter.  This, I believe, is one of the things that defines our humanity.  Our needs for food, for water, for shelter, are needs we share with the whole animal kingdom.  But our need to make a difference in the lives of others is one that, I believe, is uniquely human.

And it is important that we be willing to serve.  God calls us to service.  But being willing to receive what others have to offer, allowing others to serve us, is important too.  It lets them know that what they have to offer matters.  It enables their wholeness.

A Gospel reading from a few weeks back, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, provides an example of what happens when we let others see that what they have to offer matters. Jesus, traveling through Samaria, rested by a well when a Samaritan woman came to draw water from it.  It was noon. That this woman came under the blazing midday sun suggests that she wanted to avoid running into others, that for whatever reason, she felt rejected or unwelcome by her neighbors.  But Jesus was there.  And he says to her “Give me a drink.”  This woman, living out of community from her neighbors, now became through Jesus’s request, someone who had something to offer.  His request opened the door for deep conversation ultimately resulting in her, this outcast, going back into community after her encounter with Jesus.

Every day, Jesus comes to us, too, with all our warts and imperfections, saying “Give me a drink”.  Wherever we are, Jesus, who knows our stories fully, even the darker chapters, is there, too, telling us that as he sees it, we have something to offer, that there are things he needs us to do.  When we in response feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, do whatever we do to demonstrate loving a neighbor as ourselves, we quench Jesus’s thirst.

But when doing the work God calls us to do, let us never fall into the trap of seeing ourselves solely as giver.  Let us always steer clear of the arrogance of believing that we have more to offer than our neighbor, but let us strive instead to ensure that all those with whom we interact realize that they, too, have gifts to offer at least as valuable as our own.  If not in our words, then at least in our demeanor, let us ensure that the first message we, like Jesus, send to those we greet at the well be the request “Give me a drink.”