Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on Authority and Servanthood

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  Mark 9: 33-35

Authority comes from being a servant.  Not from doing acts of service, but from being a servant.

This is easily verified in places where a pastor goes in and does many acts of service for congregation members.  He goes to parties, baptizes, goes out of his way at weddings and funerals to accommodate families, works like the dickens--and then expects congregation members to do as he says at all times.  Such a pastor usually gets in hot water very quickly.  He'll say that the congregation needs to do something or change something.  It won't be popular, and folks will run him out.  He will be left scratching his head thinking, "After all I've done for them, why do they treat me this way?"  News flash: Probably because you expected them to do what you told them to do and your acts of service were of the "I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-listen-to-me" fashion.

Contrast this with authentic servanthood--the kind of servanthood which seeks to serve without anything given in return--the kind of servanthood Jesus speaks about with the disciples.  He's not telling them to be a servant to get something in return.  He's telling them to purposely place themselves at the bottom of the rung.  He's telling them to purposely put themselves where they will get kicked, stepped on, fussed at, and so forth.  He's telling them to purposely put themselves in the places of least honor and respect.  Why?  Well, because that's what He's doing too, and by doing so, He will be seen to have the greatest authority.

It sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but let's go back to how it works in a church setting.  Say a pastor comes into a congregation.  He doesn't look to change people or the way things are done.  Instead, he sets out to love the people entrusted into his care.  He goes out of his way to accommodate folks at weddings, funerals and baptisms.  He visits the hospitalized and shut in.  He doesn't make many demands.  He offers insights when asked.  He works to build up the strengths of the church and the people he serves.  He gets stepped on at times.  He gets fussed at at times, but such things do not ruffle his feathers.  He continues to love and serve those who get upset.  He rarely takes credit for things that go well, always choosing to lift up what his congregation members have done and giving credit to God for all good sermons, kind words, or prayers.  The more this pastor does such things, the more authority he will have.  He will earn respect as he seeks to be servant instead of ruler.

Oftentimes, I have heard the phrase that one needs to "Respect the office (position) even if you don't like the person who is in it."  I think Jesus reworks that phrase by telling us, "Start at the bottom as a servant.  Gain the respect by being at the bottom.  Once folks see your great love and the respect you give them.  They will respect you and your authority." 

I think that's how it works.

I hope I can do it.


Kathy said...

Pastor Kevin:

I think you have defined the SPIRIT of Servanthood 100%.

I am confused about what you mean by "earn" respect, etc. Luther was absolutely correct when he said we don't earn nuthin'.

The first words out of Mary's mouth were: "I am the handmaid of the Lord," but does this mean Pope Benedict should sweep the floors of the Vatican?

We have different roles. The Church is a Hierarchy.

Don't confuse Spirituality that is common to all Christians with your role as a Pastor. That is your vocation.

A servant functions within his or her Vocation. This is good order.

Kathy said...

You wrote:

"Once folks see your great love and the respect you give them. They will respect you and your authority."

I think that's how it works."

It's not how it works. There is a parable to that effect. "Surely they will respect the son!" One glance at a Crucifix, and you will know how much respect Jesus got.

Authority comes from Christ. He chose to give it to you, his Apostle, through your vocation and through the Church He founded. If you want to be holy, to become a saint, that is your choice. Your vocation is a separate matter. People should respect you because they respect Christ. You are alter Christus.

St Paul says the sword of the Word divides soul and spirit. We must learn to "divide."

Kevin Haug said...


Your exegesis is extremely suspect. "Surely they will respect the son," comes from one of the parables of the vineyard. The wicked tenants refused to acknowledge the authority of the tenants, and then they refused to acknowledge the authority of the son, even though they should have respected his position.

The position got the son absolutely nowhere with the wicked tenants--just as it got Jesus nowhere with the religious establishment--as you so point out.

But Jesus received a TON of respect--and love from those whom he came to serve. It wasn't the hoi polloi who cried for Jesus to be crucified.

You are correct that all authority does come from Christ, and to whom does he bestow it upon? --The least, the servant.

Kathy said...

I cannot defend my exegesis. I already told you I flunked out of Theology School. I used to call it "Exit Jesus."

I just think you are missing about half of the beauty of your Vocation -- the "fullness" of your Vocation.

Kathy said...

Since I am not able to answer you, I sit here in my rocking chair, a little grandmother, with my Cat on my lap.

I will, instead, offer a couple of common sense observations:

On this blog, you posted two stories: One about a hitch-hiking priest, and one about an experience you had in a gift shop in Mexico.

What do these stories have in common?

Well, in the priest story you said, "Not just an ordinary hitch-hiker, but a priest." Would the story have been so funny, would it have had so much "punch" if the priest had been a female Protestant minister? I don't think so.

In the gift shop story, the clerk wanted to "touch" you, presumably because she thought you were a "holy man" -- even though she could have figured out that you were not a Catholic priest since your wife was there.

My point is that we humans, without being taught, know what Vocation is; we know what alter Christus means.