Service: Communion with Christ
Why is it that the faster we pursue humility, the more elusive it becomes? Or perhaps we succeed in humbling ourselves before our neighbors in some good—in generosity or repentance—and pride creeps in through the back door. I am no expert in the spiritual life, but I understand spiritual failure. And I think the reason for our inability to gain humility when we desire it, the humility that we so admire in another, is because we make the virtue our goal (that is, ourselves), rather than Christ. Let me elaborate: we can serve meals at the Rescue Mission downtown for years, only to discover at the end of it that we have been serving ourselves and not the poor and hungry. We can spend a lifetime studying the Scriptures and come to the end of our days only to realize that we have been studying them not to see Christ but to elevate ourselves.
I want Christ. I think I do. And to possess Christ, one must die. As John the Baptist says, "He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less" (John 3:30, NLT). We must become so very small, and he must become everything. This is life.
Let me go further, heaping reproofs upon myself: it does us no good to be active in our church communities if our eyes are fixed upon anything other than Christ. The moment we think, "I do such and such and give this and that—what a good Christian am I," is the moment all our works become rags and ashes, spent on ourselves. If ever we look at our brother and yammer on and on about how he ought to do or be because he calls himself a Christian, then we have turned away from Christ and have fixed our gaze on ourselves. We have ceased living in communion with Christ—who is love, who loves our enemies—and begun a kind of communion with death. We cannot love and judge our brother at the same time. Furthermore, how can I judge my brother for being in a pit that I myself am in? So cry out to Jesus that he might have mercy upon us sinners; first upon me, who is the greater debtor, and then upon my brother.
My point is a simple one. We cannot serve two masters: We cannot serve both God and ourselves. So when we feed the poor—and we must feed the poor—understand that it is Christ whom we are feeding. And if our brother is not helping us, we must let him be. It may be that his good works are done in secret, as the Lord has commanded us. It may be that he suffers some unbearable burden, and none have come to assist him, to treat him as a brother. It may be that he has a multitude of other ways he serves, of which we know nothing. It may even be that he doesn't want to serve Christ, but we do not know. It is God's judgment, not ours. Even when we know, it is not our judgment. Our service is undone by our judgment. We cannot serve God while lording that same service over our brother. If we do so, we have only served our own interests, and Christ remains unfed, naked, homeless, and in prison, unvisited. He thirsts. The discipline of Service starts in our hearts. We must ask God's mercy for the ugliness and little deaths that are within it, and must by God's grace show mercy to our brother. We must become less and less.
In all of this, it is not my intention to undermine your good works. There are always tares among the wheat of our works. But we must purify ourselves. We must repent and then get back to it. As a monk replied when asked about how they lived their lives in the monastery, "We fall down, then get back up. We fall down, then get back up." We must serve in holiness and love and humility—a service that is for Christ alone. Not service because I am made to feel guilty if I do not. Not service because it is what good Christians do. We serve because we are in communion with Christ, who loves the poor and the hungry, the naked and the helpless. Who came to serve. Who cares for us. We love because he loves these people, and we are in communion with him.