29 September 2010

Service and slavery in the ministry of the Church

Patrick Comerford

Luke 17: 5-10

Καὶ εἶπαν οἱ ἀπόστολοι τῷ κυρίῳ, Πρόσθες ἡμῖν πίστιν. εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος, Εἰ ἔχετε πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, ἐλέγετε ἂν τῇ συκαμίνῳ [ταύτῃ], Ἐκριζώθητι καὶ φυτεύθητι ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ: καὶ ὑπήκουσεν ἂν ὑμῖν.

Τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν δοῦλον ἔχων ἀροτριῶντα ἢ ποιμαίνοντα, ὃς εἰσελθόντι ἐκ τοῦ ἀγροῦ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Εὐθέως παρελθὼν ἀνάπεσε, ἀλλ' οὐχὶ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Ἑτοίμασον τί δειπνήσω, καὶ περιζωσάμενος διακόνει μοι ἕως φάγω καὶ πίω, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα φάγεσαι καὶ πίεσαι σύ; μὴ ἔχει χάριν τῷ δούλῳ ὅτι ἐποίησεν τὰ διαταχθέντα; 1οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ποιήσητε πάντα τὰ διαταχθέντα ὑμῖν, λέγετε ὅτι Δοῦλοι ἀχρεῖοί ἐσμεν, ὃ ὠφείλομεν ποιῆσαι πεποιήκαμεν.

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.

‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”.’

Serving without reward

The Gospel reading in the Lectionary for Sunday next [3 October], the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, is a short one. Do you find it difficult to preach on a short reading, compared with a long reading?

In this reading, we are told that our relationship with God makes obedience to God a duty to be fulfilled and not an occasion for reward.

Do we expect rewards for our ministry other than knowing that we have answered the call of God and the call of the Church?

Do we expect our faith to sow seeds for the faith and deeds of others that bears fruit for which we gain no praise or glory?

Are you prepared for a life of service?

There are two Greek words for service in this short passage:

In verse 8, note how the word to serve, διακονέω, relates particularly to supplying food and drink. It means to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon. It is the same term that gives us the word “deacon” in the ministry of the Church.

The story is told about a young curate in his first year of ordained ministry, and who was attending a parish function for pensioners. When he was asked by the rector’s wife to go around the tables and top up the cups of tea, he protested, insinuating that this was not what he had been ordained for.

“Oh,” said the rector’s wife. “Did you not know it’s a deacon’s job to serve at tables.”

In the New Testament, the service of this type of servant is different to the role of a steward or a slave. It means to minister to someone, to render service to them, to serve or minister to them; to wait at a table and to offer food and drink to the guests. It often had a special reference to women and the preparation of food. It relates to supplying food and the necessities of life.

The second word, δοῦλος (verses 7, 9 and 10), refers to a slave, someone who is in a servile condition. But it also refers metaphorically to someone who gives himself or herself up to the will of another, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause.

Are you expecting to be a servant and a slave in the ministry of the church?

Remember, when you become a priest, that you still remain a deacon. Indeed, should one of you become a bishop, you will still remain a deacon in the Church of God.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This essay is based on notes for a Bible study in a tutorial group on 29 September 2010

No comments: