Slaves of Christ
Homily for February 26, 2017 8th Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Do you consider yourself a servant of Christ? Or more importantly, do others see you as a servant of Christ and, as St. Paul put it in his first letter to the Corinthians, “stewards of the mysteries of God”?
When we think of servants today, we often think of the “hired help” – employees who work for pay and whose service is often limited by a job description and a set number of hours worked per week, controlled by labor laws. But the image of servitude during the time of Jesus was quite different – servitude was more of a master / slave relationship – a 24-hour a day, 7 days a week thing – a total commitment to your master. Often you see the word “servant” and “slave” used interchangeably in scriptures.
So, if being a servant was more akin to being a slave, what’s a “slave”, and why would anyone want to be one for Jesus Christ? Today, if we hear the word “slave”, we might think of:
• a person held in servitude as the property of another
• one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence, or
• someone who works long and hard at something that has little or no meaning to them.
We have a very negative image of this type of servitude, and rightfully so, since it represented an involuntary condition imposed on people that deprived them of their human rights and which was used to oppress people in the past, and sadly still exists today and continues to oppress people around the world – even here.
And yet, throughout the New Testament we hear the followers of Jesus calling themselves slaves:
• In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
• From Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”
• From his letter to the Galatians: “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.”
• From his letter to Titus: “Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition of religious truth”
And not just St. Paul. St. James begins his epistle with, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.” Even St. Peter, in his 2nd letter begins with “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ”
So why did the early disciples consider themselves “slaves” of Christ?
To understand, we need to differentiate between “voluntary servitude” and “involuntary” servitude. If our master is someone or something we really love, we are happy to do whatever we can to nurture our relationship with that master – we voluntarily serve that love. But, if it is something that we think we need or must have and it becomes a burden that we resent, our service becomes involuntary.
In this country, the freedoms we have allow us to choose whether or not we will be in service to another – sometimes. And God has given us the gift of free will, so that we can make choices within our hearts. But whether in our mind or our heart, we must make a choice on who or what we are to serve.
For the followers of Christ, there was nothing more important than Jesus. They wanted to serve Him because they loved Him – and they knew that He loved them too. Being a slave of Christ wasn’t a burden – it was a JOY. And in allowing Christ to be their master allowed them to deal with everything else that they faced in their lives with the strength and wisdom that comes from God alone.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all slaves to someone or something – by our own choosing. We fool ourselves into believing that we are our own “master”; that we own things in our lives and can control how we deal with them. But a quick look at just some of the things we own or control shows us just how much of a lie that can be:
• If we own a house or car or other expensive item, we are required to maintain it, pay taxes on it, and care for it if we want it to remain of value to us.
• If we are part of a family, we have a responsibility to serve and support that family to the best of our abilities.
• Even our pets can be very needy and demanding – how many times have you heard that dogs (and especially cats) own their humans?
In fact, we have many, many masters in our lives, and we spend much of our time in prioritizing which one will get our attention today. But ultimately, in case of a conflict between choices, we can only pick one. That one becomes our true “Master” – it controls how we manage our relationship with the other things in our life. And our lives become full of conflict and worry and anxiety if we choose the wrong master. We can only be fully at peace if we have Christ as our Lord and master.
We have a choice to make. St. Catherine of Siena said: “For our soul cannot be clothed in two different loves at the same time. If our soul is clothed in the world, it cannot be clothed in God; the two are quite opposed to one another.” We must choose either God or the world to be our master. With one comes the peace and joy that knows no end; with the other comes the worries and anxieties of the world. As for me, I choose God, for “Only in God is my soul at rest . . . from Him comes my salvation.”
Are you a Slave of Christ Jesus? Would others say you are?
You have a choice. Choose well.