The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,


Credit: John Stephen Dwyer

“So you are a King, then."

Pilate’s problem is that – like most of us – he has never actually met a King before. So Jesus does not fulfil his expectations of what a King should look like, act like, be like. And so, like many of us, Pilate fails to recognise genuine authority when he meets it. For him, a King is a bit like a governor – a bit like himself – only bigger. That is one of the commoner mistakes we all make about God – we think of Him like ourselves, with much the same likes and dislikes - only bigger. It is only when we meet true authority – true integrity – that we discover the difference. That authority, that integrity, that Truth is something that I believe I have met in human form – but very rarely. And I have some sympathy for Pilate because when I met it, I too got it wrong.

Some years ago, just about when we had just started setting up our general practice for homeless people in Victoria, I went to dinner with the parish priest of Camden. And there I met an elderly man I’ll call Seamus. He told me that he was a brother in the ‘XXX’ religious order that worked principally in nursing care - and that he had just moved to Camden from their mother house in Manchester. He was interested to hear about the work that we were doing and asked to visit us. Maybe, he thought, there might even be an opportunity for him to volunteer.
So we made a date and he came down. And he seemed like a very good, impressive kind of man. And he was very interested in the work that we were doing and he wondered if there was a way he could get involved.

We asked him if he had any qualifications.

He told us that he had been a nurse for many years, but had been mostly in administration for the last twenty years. So, although he had kept up his registration, he really wasn’t sure if he would be suitable for a nursing role.

We explained that we really didn’t have much work for an administrator.  Was there anything else he thought he could do?

Well, he thought that maybe he could help us with a few simple every day cleaning tasks and general odd jobs, maybe cleaning the toilets. He said that in every institution he had ever worked in, there was always a vacancy for somebody to clean the toilets.

He seemed like a great guy and we were keen to take him on. But we both noticed that he was just a little vague about his previous employment history. So we said we would only be able to offer him the position as a volunteer after we had taken up his references, looked into his background and done his criminal records check. These days, you can’t be too careful.

Later that evening, I went home to find our Provincial Superior in fine form at the dinner table. What had made his day, he told us, was meeting a really wonderful, holy and gifted man – a man who he felt, would really do almost anything for Christ. He was an ‘XXX’ brother who had just moved to Camden. (My ears pricked up!) For twenty years he had worked in central Africa as the ‘XXX’s set up clinics in rural areas which had never previously had any medical access. Then he had been elected to be the Superior General of the whole order for nine years. The normal maximum term of office was six years, but he was so universally loved that they had asked him to stay on for a further three. Then he had gone to be the chief executive of the group of six hospitals the ‘XXX’s ran in the United States – a huge structure worth several billion dollars. After that, he had spent three years based in Manchester, serving as the Provincial Superior of the order in this country. And after that, at 75 and in retirement, he had now come to Camden. With such a background such a man could be of immense value in so many ways – he could serve on boards of management of charities, as a school governor and even as an advisor to the Diocese and the Province on various matters of good governance. The Provincial had suggested a number of such positions to him, but Seamus had stopped him to explain that he was already waiting on one very attractive volunteering possibility that he was very keen on and would not be able to respond until he had heard back from that.

I, of course, sat silently throughout the meal, sinking lower and lower in my chair, and focusing my gaze entirely on my fish and chips. I did not feel quite up to the task of explaining to my Provincial that the very attractive volunteering opportunity for which Seamus was waiting was the chance to clean the toilets in our surgery – something that, of course, we doctors think our time is much too valuable for.

Because, for us – the sons of Zebedee – the people who think we are too important for the boring, unpleasant and messy jobs - it is just so easy to forget that “The Son of Man himself did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Seamus served in the surgery for four years before his Provincial sent him to another work. At times he did some administration; sometimes, having retrained, he did some nursing (which he still loved), sometimes he went to meetings on our behalf with the health authority to explain our work to them in the management language only they understand; sometimes – at his own insistence – he would clean our toilets. And sometimes, he would find time to attend some of the Board meetings and governance committees that our Provincial asked him to go to. But where-ever he went, he went not to be served but to serve and to give his life for the good of everyone he met.

So, let us be given the grace to be and to recognise the Presence and Goodness of God in the World, especially when we meet it unexpectedly.