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Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

My dear encountered couples:

In many restaurants those who take your order and bring your food are no longer referred to as waiters and waitresses, they are called “Servers.” Not because their function or job description is any different than it has always been, but for the sake of political correctness.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “If anyone wishes to rank first, he (she) must remain the last one of all and the servant of all.”

Those now called “servers” in restaurants are a good example of what it is to be a servant. We are all familiar with restaurant servers. How so very much we need them and depend on them when we eat out! Those who are so often criticized and spoken unkindly to for not satisfying our each and every culinary desire are, in all practicality, the most important people in the restaurant – even more important than the chef. What good is the chef if there isn’t someone to bring us the food he cooks?

Servers might be looked upon by many as last on the social scale, but let’s face it, they rank first in importance when it comes to our getting anything to eat. Whether it be in a broken down, roach infested diner, or in an immaculate, exquisite, five-star dining room, without servers everything comes to a screeching halt. In other words, those who are often deemed last in significance are, in fact, the first. Odd, isn’t it? But Jesus knew that all along. And that’s why he tells us to be servers.

But if we listen to him and decide to become servers, we had better know what we are getting ourselves into. A lot of hard and often unappreciated work! Servers arrive early to prepare the coffee, mix the ice tea, set the tables. And stay late to clean up the mess and prepare the room for the next day’s sitting. And for what? Usually for just half the minimum hourly wage.

Servers must be kind to the most unkind. When food is slow in coming out of the kitchen, when the food is not hot enough or seasoned properly, it is the server who gets complained to and perhaps reported to the manager. A smile, a gentle voice, a friendly and understanding disposition are required. “The customer is always right,” servers must remember, even when they are obviously wrong. Servers must jump to every whim and wish of those who sit at their tables. Their livelihood depends on it. I don’t think everybody realizes that.

In most restaurants those who serve at tables get next to nothing on their paychecks. Salaries can be less than half the minimum wage, depending on the laws of the state they work in. Their livelihood depends 99.9 percent on tips. Customers might not like that arrangement, they might be opposed to tipping, the meals might be expensive enough, but that is the way it is. And when a tip is small, or not forthcoming at all, it is the server who suffers, not the owner or the manager of the restaurant.

There are people who walk out, not only without leaving a tip, but without even paying their bill. And in some restaurants the servers must make up for it, as well as having to pay for broken dishes and stolen silverware.

The life of a server can be one of the most difficult and unrewarding on earth. Jesus tells us we should all be servers to one another, for which he guarantees rewards far exceeding minimum wage.

All of us are not meant to serve in restaurants; it takes special talents and dispositions to do that. But we are all meant to be servers in the world.

Jesus was a server; we are to model our lives in his likeness. “The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve,” Jesus told his disciples, “he has come to give his life in ransom for the many.” (Mk. l0:45) For us to be servers or servants of any kind is to live at least a part of our lives for others. How are we to do that?

I’m afraid I can’t spell it out for you. How you are to serve people, what it is God wants you to do, I cannot say. That is for you to find out by praying and asking God what he wants you to do. Those who are hired for a job, and Christians are certainly hired for a job, must ask their bosses what they are to do, listen to what they tell them, and then do their best to do it.

We all have talents. God has given each of us abilities. No one has been slighted. They are not meant for ourselves alone. We are not to hoard them, bury them, or use them just for our own advantage. They are gifts given to us by God which we are to use for the good of others.

Servers in restaurants use their gifts of serving abilities for the good of those who enter their establishments. Christians are to use their gifts for the good of people who enter their lives. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And that takes a lot of serving. A lot of long, hard, and often unappreciated work. Maybe what we do for others brings us few immediate rewards, but when we do it because it is God’s will he shower blessings into our lives repeatedly and without end.

Who can you serve, who can you help, whose life can you make better? It needn’t always be someone on the other side of the world. Of course, we should donate our money to help the homeless and the starving wherever they may be, but let us look around our own neighborhoods, in our own cities, behind the walls of the houses we pass. How about in our own homes? Many people are starved, not just for food, but for a kind word, a little sign of concern and friendliness; many needs someone to notice them and make them feel important. Everybody is important, of course, but we all need to be reassured occasionally by somebody else.

We are called to be servants. Maybe we should watch those who serve in restaurants and see how it is to be done. May God bless us all as we take turns waiting on one another. Amen.

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