The movie Lee Daniel’s The Butler is about an African American man who serves as a butler in the White House for a tenure of three decades. Since most of the butlers at the White House depicted in the movie are African American, one theme that consistently stands out is the fact that one race serves another.
Some of you have talked to me about the ongoing British television show on Masterpiece Classic, Downton Abbey. This show is about an aristocratic family and its servants in British society during the first half of the 20th century. A primary theme running through this show is one class serving another.
As I reflect upon both productions, I am struck by the fact that even though we have one race or one class serving another, and even though the race or class that is being served views themselves as superior to their servants, the servants themselves take pride in their profession of service and often upstage their “superiors” by their work ethic and humility of service.
Although I am not an advocate of one class or one race serving another, I am mindful that the notion of servitude as portrayed in the teachings of Jesus has theological significance for all of us. On one occasion, the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest. Jesus overheard them and he sat them down and told them whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:33-35). In a sense, Jesus is telling us that we are all servants of one another. Jesus breaks down the barriers between class and race and other sociological categories that separate people. He says without equivocation that we are to serve each other as servants of him.
So as we move into the Lenten and Easter season this year, perhaps this is a good theme for us to keep at the forefront. How can we be servants of each other? How can be we servants to those who we know and to those who we don’t know? How can we be good and faithful servants in the name of Jesus Christ?
There is a hymn in our hymnal titled “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant?” The first verse of this hymn pretty much sums it up: “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”