Servant: “A person who performs duties for others,” one definition according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Public servant: “A person who works for the state or for local government.”
Since the dawn of history, conquerors have taken over other peoples and recruited slaves and servants from the defeated population. As civilizations became more advanced, the elite classes made slaves and servants of the poorer classes. A servant was definitely an inferior. Few voluntarily chose servanthood as an occupation.
Then a teacher named Jesus knelt before his disciples, took off their sandals, and washed their feet as a common servant. After this act of servitude—slavery even—he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Jesus, Lord of the universe, became a servant and called on us to do the same. Eventually, we understood that all our vocations—king, president, merchant, clerk, car mechanic, doctor—whatever we are called to do—are the means of serving others. Even government is not for its own sake but for the sake of the governed, whom it serves.
Jesus stood on its head the usual way of doing things. But then he did this from the very beginning. The king of the universe opting to come as a helpless baby? And not in Rome or Athens, either. Not even in venerable towns like Carthage or Alexandria. But in a backwater Judean stable to a peasant woman. Jesus was a revolutionary in the best sense of the word. He chose servanthood, as His followers are called to do.
Ann Gaylia O'Barr, author of Singing in Babylon, Searching for Home, Quiet Deception, Distant Thunder and A Sense of Mission (all OakTara), was a Foreign Service Officer in the United States Department of State from 1990 to 2004. Assignments included tours in U.S. embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia (Jeddah and Dhahran), Algeria, Canada, Tunisia, and Washington, D.C. (Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and Bureau of Intelligence and Research).