“You are those who have stood by me in my trials, and I confer on you, just as my father has conferred on me, a kingdom . . .”
When I read it today, this line really touched my heart. I picture a man a little run down at the heels, the traveling healer who has nowhere to call his own. He’s standing with his followers, people who have traipsed all over the countryside to be with him. They are his witnesses and his apprentices, people who have given up their lives to learn what he has to teach them and to follow his Way.
He’s telling them about being servant leaders. The greatest among them, he says, will be those who wait on them, who minister to their needs. It is a strange concept. Even today, with the examples of countless saints and wise men and women before us, it is still a strange concept. Jesus is not talking about doing things for other people so that you will be noticed and esteemed. Jesus is saying that the deeds themselves – well, not even the deeds, but the attitude that generates the deeds – the state of mind that produces servant-hood – that is itself the reward. It is this attitude that makes a person great. Recognition by others may or may not accompany it; that is an entirely different matter.
I picture Jesus sitting somewhere commonplace, but in a space large enough that all his followers can gather around. Maybe it’s the courtyard of a house, a complex where a large extended family dwells. Maybe it’s out on the edge of town or near the well or up on a hill overlooking the wide expanses of empty land beyond the places where people dwell. Perhaps there’s the baa of sheep in the distance. And he spreads his arms to include everything around them, and he says, “I confer on you, just as my father has conferred on me, a kingdom.”
With those followers of his, I suddenly sit up a little straighter, blink the complacency out of my eyes and look around. Everywhere I look there are things to do. Walls need to be mended, plants and animals need tending. People are in poverty or emotional distress. They are sick, maybe dying. They are strangers who need friends; they are friends who need care; they are care-providers who are burned out and despairing because they feel so alone. Here is my kingdom. Here is my kingdom, the realm of my servant-hood. As God has conferred it on Jesus, so he confers it on me.
Because I moved around a lot as a kid, I am a sucker for opportunities to belong. I never completely feel like I fit in. But here, right under my nose, is the ultimate belonging – my very own kingdom. Recognition and value do not come from other people here. They emerge out of the knowledge that there are things to do and that it’s my responsibility to do the things to which I am called. Like Jesus, I can meet everyone I see from that place of servant leadership that brings hope, and health and joy to those it touches.
In recognizing my kingdom of servant-hood, I already eat and drink at Christ’s table, for I am in Christ’s kingdom. My throne is right here, where I minister. From that throne I judge the twelve tribes of Israel — in other words, all the world. I judge their need and their woundedness, and, in all the little ways I am able, I respond.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado