Faith in God as our creator and sustainer enables us to live generously and inspires us to serve others with joy. Through serving others, we serve ourselves because we’re all connected in the same web of life. That’s why Jesus told his disciple to stop being so preoccupied about the basic necessities of life. The same God who feeds the sparrow also sustains us.
This raises a fundamental question. Why do we Americans, as citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth, feel so insecure? This sense of insecurity drives both our domestic and our foreign policy. Part of the reason is that most of the wealth in our country is concentrated in the top 1% and the fact that the top 20% are gaining wealth much faster than middle-class, working class, and poor people. Inequality is greater than at any time since the 1920s. But this can’t be the whole reason because even poor people in our country have more resources than many people in other parts of the world.
Structural injustice diminishes all of us—even those who benefit most from it. We need to recognize that such injustice is rooted in a narrative where we tell ourselves that the world is a hostile place and we therefore need to take care of ourselves through all possible means. This story contains lots of fear and insecurity. It’s the opposite of the biblical narrative of gratitude to God as our provider, which flows over into generosity and service.
This is what was going on when James and John approached Jesus with their special request to have positions of power and honor in the new world order they assumed he would inaugurate (Mark 12: 35-45). Talk about crass opportunism. We look out for ourselves and the devil take the hindmost. No wonder the other disciples were so upset went they caught wind of it. But they were angry for the wrong reason.
They all thought leadership was a matter of domination and control. They had been with Jesus all this time and they still didn’t grasp the truth that true leadership is instead about service. We easily identify with Jesus’ self-absorbed disciples. Like them, we seek places of honor and privilege. Like them we want greatness without pain or hard work. And like them, we can talk a good talk about serving but we don’t want to clean the toilets. We miss the joy of serving.
A lesson I take from this is that our social activism needs to be rooted in service, otherwise it rings hollow. I’m often astounded by all the opportunities for service that surround us. As followers of Jesus, serving others with joy is one of the songs of our heart. The second stanza of the hymn, Will You Let Me be Your Servant, especially speaks to this: “We are pilgrims on a journey; we are travelers on the road. We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”