The great mystery of God’s compassion is that in his compassion,
in his entering with us into the condition of a slave,
he reveals himself to us as God.
Sunday I preached in two different communities.
Though I referred to the Gospel and the reading from Ezekiel, I concentrated on Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2: 1-11. It is a marvelous reading to share with a community, especially communities struggling with divisions. Deepen my joy, Paul tells the Philippians by having the mind and heart of Christ – being one in spirt, one in love, one in your aspirations. Christ didn’t cling to his divine power but, emptying himself he became a slave.
Yes, the Greek word is slave, δοῦλος – not servant/attendant, διάκονος. We often hear it as servant, which is fine, but “slave”? You’ve got to be kidding? That’s nearly incomprehensible.
As Henri Nouwen well puts it, but in terms of “servant”:
Our God is a servant God. It is difficult for us to comprehend that we are liberated by someone who became powerless, that we are strengthened by one who became powerless, that we find new hope in someone who divested himself of all distinctions, and that we find a leader in someone who became a servant. (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, p. 24)
But I was not ready to be taught what this means.
In the morning I went to preside at a Celebration of the Word and Communion in the village of San Marcos Las Pavas. It is one of most remote communities in the parish, about an hour from my house. The final leg of the journey is an uphill ride with lots of curves. As I turned the curve before the church. I was stopped in my tracks. The road was impassible; because of the heavy rains a landslide left only a small, muddy path to get to the church.
When I got the church my hands and shoes were muddy. As I stopped to wash my hands, an older man who I think is mentally challenged asked to wash my shoes. At first, I was reluctant and even began washing them myself. But then I remembered that Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Whom am I to not let this humble man serve me?
As I preached later about Jesus the servant, the slave of all, I made a reference to this man. He showed me the face of God – not in his poverty, but in his service. He is teaching me to drop on my knees to God as well as to wash the feet and shoes of others. He is teaching me to let myself be served, to let myself be vulnerable. He is opening me to see Jesus in entirely new ways.