Serving is almost always hard work, even if you do it for a living (think of your food servers at restaurants -- they work very hard taking care of customers). The one Servant who tops them all, Jesus Christ our Savior, served to the point of pain, giving his body and life to a torturous death on the cross (before his triumphant, world-changing resurrection). But even before
that, Jesus served almost all the time, as we can see in the Gospels. As I've been reading through the Gospels again before the Advent season, I've come across an incident that has impressed me before, but somehow more this time. It's the time Jesus fed the 5,000 -- an impressive feat to be sure, but this time it's the story behind the story that makes it so impressive to me.
The stories are found in Matthew 14, Mark 6 and Luke 9. Each account has different details, but the full story seems to be that John the Baptist had just been killed in prison by Herod, and Jesus had found out about it while his disciples were on their mission trip. As they returned, he invited them on a retreat -- a good idea after a time of stress or hard work, or just to re-connect with God and one another. But their retreat got cut short: "But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns." Rather than turning them away, Jesus "had compassion on them and healed their sick." (Right after this incident, according to Matthew, he sent the disciples onto a boat and went alone onto the mountain to pray -- so he got some solitude at last.)
When evening came, another opportunity came, this time for the disciples to learn to serve. "Send the people away" they asked Jesus, "so they can go buy food and find lodging." Jesus looked at them and said something really, really challenging: "You give them something to eat." This was the lead-in to the famous feeding of 5,000 people from what little the disciples had. But instead of forming a buffet line, which would have taken a very long time, Jesus had the disciples act as waiters, each going out with a basket full of bread and fish to serve 8 or so groups of 50 people. (Imagine their surprise when the baskets didn't run out of food!)
Instead of watching, the disciples got to help. Instead of seeing Jesus do the work, they got to see the food multiplied to feed 5,000 instead of four or five. Instead of standing back, they got their own hands dirty. And that's a good example for us, frankly. A friend of mine was once praying, "God, please help that homeless man" when the Lord replied "Hey, you're right there -- you go help him!" And so when we are "right there" we can help too, as we're moved by the Lord in the circumstances around us. And as a group -- like the 12 disciples -- we will get handed opportunities by Jesus to join his ongoing work. That work, part of his expanding kingdom, is going on all around us.
Joining the Master in serving may be inconvenient, as it was for him and the 12, and it's sometimes new to us like feeding people was to the disciples; but it's the Master's service, for his purposes, and we may get surprised how he supplies us for it! As we keep praying for the Master's direction, let's be praying too for our own willingness to follow Jesus where he calls us. Who knows what stories we'll get to tell?