SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Wis 2:23 – 3:9
; Ps 33:2-3
; Lk 17:7-10
It is natural that we look for gratitude and rewards for what we do. Even if we do not seek material rewards or benefits, we would expect at least that those whom we serve are grateful for what we have done. Otherwise we will be discouraged, because we feel that we are not appreciated. Indeed, when appreciation is not forthcoming, many will be slighted and feel hurt. They will stop serving or giving.
This explains why in the first reading, we read that this is more so when a good and just man suffers for doing what is right and good. Again, we all expect the good to be rewarded and the just to be blessed. But when they suffer injustices, we find it difficult to accept. As the author of Wisdom says, “In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster; their leaving us like annihilation.” Indeed, the suffering of good and holy people is seen as tragic.
In the gospel, Jesus gives us His perspective of the reward of a servant. He said, a servant’s duty is to serve the master:“Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, ‘Come and have your meal immediately?’ Would he not be more likely to say, ‘Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards’” The truth is that the place of a servant is to serve. Only in serving can he or she find himself or herself. This explains why Jesus said, we should not be looking for any reward or gratitude from those whom we serve. This is because we are doing what we are called to do. Hence, Jesus postulated, “Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.’”
In other words, we are all called to live out our vocation in life. Regardless what we do or who we are, our calling is to be a servant of others through our vocation. It is when we live out our identity as servants that we find ourselves, our fulfillment and our meaning for existence. Unless we live out our identity, we will live a conflicted life. Those who are not faithful to their responsibilities in life are not living an integrated life. They contradict what they are called to be and to do. Unless we find unity of life between who we are and what we are called to do, and do accordingly, there will be a lack of peace within our hearts. The reward of being faithful to our servanthood, our vocation, our life is the joy of being our true self and allowing the doing to flow from our being. There is no other reward greater than the joy of satisfaction, fulfillment, self-realization and a clear conscience.
This is true for one who lives a just and good life and yet suffers injustice. As the author of Wisdom says, their suffering and death appear to the unwise as a punishment, a disaster, an annihilation and a tragedy. But the truth is that those who suffer unjustly “are in peace” because they suffer for what is right and true. Their conscience is clear and their suffering and even death is a witness to the truth that they proudly stand for. Indeed, “the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God. No torment shall ever touch them.” For the unwise, their suffering means a failure of their mission, but for the just man, “their hope was rich with immortality; slight was their affliction, great will their blessings be”. Indeed what greater life can one have than to be true to oneself, and to be ready to die for one’s beliefs? When we fail to stand up for our beliefs and be true to ourselves, we lose our self-dignity. It shows that we lack courage and we are simply dancing to the tunes of the world, not what is true but what is popular. Eventually, we lose our direction and our conscience is not at peace because what we do is contrary to what we believe in our hearts.
Besides being faithful to themselves when the just suffer, they take their sufferings as moments in which they purify themselves in love and faith. “God has put them to the test and proved them worthy to be with him; he has tested them like gold in a furnace, and accepted them as a holocaust. When the time comes for his visitation they will shine out; as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.” Through suffering, especially unjust and innocent suffering, we grow in grace and in the capacity to be detached from the passing values of life. So we should not be afraid to suffer because when we see sufferings positively, they teach us humility, purify our motives in service, strengthen our will, and help us to go beyond the sensual comfort to seek for inner peace and joy.
Unjust suffering is not only good for the ones who suffer but it is also meant for those who look upon their sufferings. Apparently, such unjust suffering is absurd, but only innocent and helpless suffering evokes the compassion and the sentiments of their fellowmen. We have more sympathy for the underdogs when they are helpless and marginalized than those who can fight back when they are attacked. This was the case of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah when he wrote, “As many were astonished at him – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance and his form beyond that of the sons of men – so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.” (Isa 52:14f) When Jesus died on the cross, the centurion who witnessed the whole event praised God and exclaimed, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Lk 23:47) We also read, “And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. (Lk 23:48) We are moved by innocent and unjust suffering. By our innocent suffering and humble service, we will be a reprimand to those who are evil. “They shall judge nations, rule over peoples, and the Lord will be their king for ever.”
Jesus for us is a model of this servant that was faithful to Himself and as a result, suffered unjustly. Jesus’ identity was that of a servant. He told the disciples, “It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:26-28) The letter to the Philippians summarizes the servanthood of the Lord in these words, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)
We too are called to be like Jesus, to be the Suffering Servant for God and for others. This is our calling in life. Our identity as sons and daughters of God is to be like a servant as God is to us. The author of Wisdom says, “God made man imperishable, he made him in the image of his own nature; it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world, as those who are his partners will discover.” God’s life is love, service and self-emptying. Indeed, servanthood marks the life of every Christian. Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24f)
Only by walking in the way of servanthood and, when necessary, suffering for doing what is right and good, can we share in Christ’s exaltation. We are assured in the first reading that “they who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.” We will share in the resurrection of Christ because we share in His suffering and death. (cf Rom 8:17)Indeed, the joy of being united with the Lord and sharing in His life of grace and peace is worth the suffering. Hence, with the psalmist, let us in good times and in bad, say, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise always on my lips; in the Lord my soul shall make its boast. The humble shall hear and be glad. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.”