When I read these verses as a young person, I think I misunderstood them. I assumed that serving others rather than being served meant staying out of the limelight, letting others lead, always playing a supporting role. You must be slave of all seemed like a pretty clear instruction to refuse assuming any authority at all (v. 44). But now, many years later, I read this passage differently.
Some leadership expresses itself through service. Leaders can collect the best thinking within a group and synthesize it to find a solution that works for everyone. Some will answer every petition, becoming leaders who trouble themselves to minister to people’s needs no matter what their status. Some follow Jesus’ model of servant leadership, noticing how he hears, engages, and solves the dilemmas of those waiting for him in crowds or by the roadside.
It seems my earlier confusion over verse 44 has informed many of my choices. Like a backcountry hiker, I decided that my life’s goal was to make no mark, leave no trace. What do I do now, having firmly placed myself on the side of insignificance? Does service really leave no trace? I can listen for God to call me to the next step forward. Servant leadership can begin wherever I find myself. Taking responsibility for making things around me go well is always possible, whether I occupy a position of power or am simply in the rank and file.
Change happens within us when we encounter the one who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (v. 45). When those of us who long for a changed world—less hunger, war, racism, confusion—listen for the Spirit, we hear it invite us to new ways of serving everyone we meet.
In what ways are you growing as a servant leader?
God, help me take the steps I need to care for all people, whatever my role may be. Amen.