Joyful Service

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus tells his disciples of the suffering he will face when they go to Jerusalem. What this elicits from James and John (who are clearly not listening all that carefully) is the request that they “sit one at your right and one at your left.” However, Jesus knows that they lack real understanding of what they are asking him and tells them that, in contrast to the way of the world,

whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

We hear not only hear this particular reading often, but Jesus also gives variants of this teaching on more than one occasion, both in his words and in his deeds. Yet, I think it is a teaching too easily forgotten, that we are here to serve.

The saint whose memorial we celebrate today, Philip Neri, was a model of service. Before becoming a priest, he both worked with young people, helping them live a Christian life, and he formed an association to care for the poor. After being ordained a priest, he continued to live a life of humility and simple works. He is described as “excel[ing] in his love of neighbor and in evangelical simplicity along with a joyous service to God.”

I particularly like the description of “joyous” service. Not an attitude of doing what one has to do (grudgingly), but serving with joy. Something worthy of imitation.