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Mrs. Zebedee and the servant’s role

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By Jeanne Hunt

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is the time Mrs. Zebedee tries to get Jesus to give her sons first-row seats at the heavenly banquet (see Matthew 20:20–28). I can really identify with her motivation. The mother’s handbook requires us to look out for our boys. We will do whatever it takes to help them make the grade, win the trophy, and even sit next to Jesus in heaven.

Even though Jesus takes exception to her request, the mother in me can identify with her logic. Jesus takes her question to a higher level by giving Mrs. Z something to think about in regard to humble service vs. power and position. The truth is that all mothers should try to raise sons who are servants rather than CEOs.

The servant role is a tough one. Few notice what these invisible people are up to. We want to be acknowledged for our brilliance and applauded for our great work. We need to realize that serving is not an occupation, it is more an attitude. In fact, great CEOs, princes of the church, and world leaders have been exemplary servants. The two positions of leader and servant are very compatible. Servant mentality means loving everyone (no exceptions), putting the needs of others before our own, and being willing to lay down our life for another. We are not talking about waiting tables. We are talking heroic compassion.

Jesus expects His disciples to embrace this servant mentality. Yet, most of us are far from the high standards the Gospels challenge us to embrace. We can start with simple ways and gradually increase our servant stamina. (It is kind of like working out: start slow and work your way up to the Iron Man regimen.)

What works for me is starting to look at events through servant eyes. See that harried mother in the grocery store line who keeps looking at her watch? Let her go ahead of you. Open doors for others, do small favors, clean up someone else’s mess, be kind in a traffic jam. You get the idea.

Not only is this attitude suitable for loving others as ourselves, but it works for creation too: treat the world with kindness. We can recycle, use less fuel, reduce our use of Styrofoam and plastics, plant a garden, etc.

Then there is having a relationship with God that is servant based. A servant loves with his whole heart. So we can get up an hour early for prayer, go to Mass more than once a week, adore God at Eucharistic adoration or on a park bench. Let God know that He is first in our lives.

Little by little, we are transformed by this attitude. There is a secret hidden within servant living: When we start putting God, others, and creation first, we discover something outside our ego-centered universe and are changed. The light within our spirit beams out. We discover our own capacity for divinity (capax Dei). As darkness melts into abiding peace and happiness, we encounter Jesus who dwells in our hearts. Servant attitude is the remedy to a loneliness that was wearing us down without our notice. Giving is a sure cure for isolation. Lift despair and replace it with a servant’s joy!

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