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by the Rev. John Keble



from Sermons for the Saints' Days and Other Festivals

James Parker and Co. Oxford, 1880.


S. LUKE xxii.  27.

"I am among you as He that serveth."

IF we go into a house where there are a master and servants, we are generally at no loss to distinguish the one from the other.  He that sitteth at meat is the master; he that ministers and waits on him is the servant.  There cannot well be any mistake: we know them at once one from another.  The servants wait, and the master is waited upon.  The family could not go on in any order, if it were otherwise.  But in the heavenly household, the family of Jesus Christ, the Holy Catholic Church, it is just the contrary.  There, the Master waits, and the servants are waited upon.  The good things of the world to come, the word of God and the grace of His holy Sacraments, are ministered to us by Jesus Christ: we do not minister them to Him.  He washes and feeds us, not we Him.  In a word, He makes Himself our servant: and if we could see things as God sees them, we should be as thoroughly aware of this as we are aware, on going into a  family, who is the master, the chief person, and who are they that serve and wait in the house.  If our eyes were but opened to see things as the Angels see them, we should discern how wonderfully He Who created us abides among us even now, to provide for all the wants of our souls: as He Himself told His disciples in the text, "I am among you as He that serveth."  In the world, he that sitteth at meat is greater, but it is not so among you, your King and your God has made Himself, for your sake, "least of all and servant of all."

Thus our Lord spake to His Apostles at His last Supper: and they would understand Him all the better, and what He said would sink the deeper into their hearts, in consequence of what He had just before done.  For at the beginning of this feast, He had, very solemnly and earnestly, in their sight performed the office, which slaves were wont to perform to their masters coming in to their meals, especially from a journey.  He had washed their feet, each one of them, not leaving out even Judas the traitor.  And in order to do this, He had made the usual difference in His dress, girding Himself with a towel, which He used to wipe their feet. [S. John xiii.  5, and 13, 14.]  And when they were amazed at this, He told them plainly that He did it for their sake.  He did it, because He was their Master and Lord; in order to set them an example.  Thus He had done to them, and this He had told them, at the beginning of that Paschal feast which He kept with them the night before His sufferings. And now He refers to it again, on occasion of the dispute which arose among them at that feast, which of them was accounted to be the greatest.  He corrects and warns them, that greatness in His kingdom should be a very different thing from greatness in a worldly way.  He, the King and Lord in His kingdom, had just shewed Himself by washing their feet to be among them as the servant of all: and they were to understand that the nearer any came to the King, the higher place any should have in His kingdom, the more would that man have to humble himself, and wait on everyone, as Christ Himself did.  Our Lord's words are to be taken as explaining what He had done.  His disciples had not rightly understood it, otherwise they would not have begun again, so soon, to dispute which should be greatest.  But now He has made it so plain, that there is no excuse for our not understanding it.  He has made it plain to all generations, that as He was and is among us, to wait upon all, and to be servant of all, so are His ministers and His whole Church to continue doing unto the end of the world.  In proportion as any man or order of men comes nearer to Christ; in proportion as any generation or any part of the Church has Christ more entirely abiding in it; just in that same proportion and measure will they humble themselves to wait each one upon his brethren; each will make himself last of all, and servant of all. 

Perhaps it is a part of this humiliation, that so little is known, generally, of the sayings and doings of the holy Apostles; their wise words, and their mighty and wonderful works.  If they had cared to do so, they might, no doubt, have said and done things to; make themselves specially remembered, as the great ones of this world do.  But, no doubt, they wished for nothing of the kind.  Their wish and their prayer was, to do their duty and please God: not that men should either then or in after time say, "This was the doing of such and such a saint."  And in this respect again they were like faithful and good servants; on whom almost every thing depends, as concerning the order and beauty of the house; but the persons who come, and go, and admire the house, know nothing of the servants, neither do they care to be known; their object is, to satisfy their master and mistress, and do right by them.  And so it has come to pass, that of the greater part of the Apostles, of all but four or five of them, we know very little indeed, except that they were Apostles, and faithful ones.  So it is with the saint of this day, S. Bartholomew.  We should naturally wish to know a great deal more of him.  But it has pleased God to hide it from us.  And we may be sure that, whatever good we might have gained from knowing more particulars of his holy works and ways, nothing could have done us more good than quietly following the pattern which he and his holy brethren have set us; doing our work faithfully in God's household, without seeking to be praised or known for it: and being, in this respect as in others, servants and ministers, not masters and rulers, in the Church. 

Our Lord made Himself servant of all, first in His wonderful Incarnation.  As S. Paul writes, "being in the Form of God," [Phil. ii. 6, 7.] i.e.  being from all eternity God, even as the Father is God, one with the Father and the Holy Ghost, He "made Himself of no reputation, and took on Him the form of a servant." He took on Him, not only the outward appearance, but the very true nature of man, who by wilful sinning had become the slave or servant of sin.  Again, "being rich," [2 Cor. Viii. 9.] Owner of heaven and earth and of all things therein, He for our sakes made Himself "poor ;" gave it all up; was as though He had nothing of His own, not even where to lay His Head.  In this respect again, He took on Him the form of a slave; was, among men, as He that serveth. 

And thirdly, and very especially, Christ was among men as He that serveth, by His constant waiting on others in His miraculous goodness.  From the beginning of His life to the beginning of His Ministry, He abode with His poor and lowly parents, and was subject unto them, and wrought in the carpenter's trade.  And from the beginning of His Ministry to the end of His earthly life, He went about doing good.  He was continually doing something for others, never for Himself.  When they came crowding round Him to be cured of their diseases, or to have their souls relieved and comforted, or the evil spirits driven away from them, they were so restless, so many, so importunate, that they sometimes left Him "no leisure, so much as to eat." [S. Mark vi. 31.]  Did He therefore draw back from them?  Did He hide Himself from the poor petitioners, as He did some time from His subtle malicious adversaries?  Nay, He had full compassion on them, He healed their sick, He instructed their ignorance, and then, rather than send them away fasting, He wrought a miracle to feed them, lest they should faint by the way. 

Thus our Lord was among His people as He that serveth, all His life long; that which was pronounced as a curse upon undutiful Canaan [Gen. ix. 25.], He took, as He did the whole curse of sin, upon Himself.  "A servant of servants" He was unto His brethren.  So it was in His life; so and much more in His Death.  For this very reason did He choose the death of the Cross, and dispose all things by His providence, so as to bring on Himself that particular way of death; because it was the punishment specially reserved for slaves, and He would be in all things a slave for us.  What He did then in washing their feet was not a single thing done once for all, as if a great king should, once in his life, humble himself to wait on his own servants, but it was a true token and sample of the whole course of His life. 

Now the Apostles were to be like Him: He gave them herein especially an example, that they should do as He had done unto them.  And so they did: as their Acts and epistles shew.  As they preached not themselves but Christ Jesus the Lord, so they behaved themselves, day and night, as the servants of all Christians for Jesus' sake.  They esteemed nothing their own, but were ready to spend, and be spent: not even depending for a return on the love and gratitude of those, for whom they gave up all.  They worked on just the same, though it should happen sometimes, that the more abundantly they loved their flocks, the less they were loved by their flocks.  They made themselves poor, and suffered the loss of all things, if by any means they might win souls.  They were content, as the Apostle of this day, to work in secret.  As good servants, their joy and crown was, for the house to be in good order, not for themselves to be praised on account of its being so.  They were always waiting upon all who came in their way: doing what good they might to their bodies, that they might be the more enabled to do good to their souls.

Now such as the Apostles were, such as our Lord was Himself upon earth, such did He intend His Church to be in His place: His Church, and each particular member of it.  And although, through our manifold sins and wickedness, things are sadly fallen away from what He intended they should be, and from what they were at first; still a thoughtful person may see, that this is on the whole the mark and character of the Church, and certainly of each good Christian in it:—to wait upon all, to be in the world as one that serveth.  For, was not the Church waiting upon us from the very first, as soon as ever we were born into the world?  Was she not ready, as it were, by our very cradles, to take us up and put us in our Saviour's arms?  And was she not ready afterwards, with her schools and instructions, to train us up in the way, wherein we should go?  to lead us in due time to the Bishop and present us for his blessing?  and after that, to bring us to God's holy Altar, where, if it is not our own fault, we are sure to be fed and nourished unto everlasting life by the precious Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ?  When we are sick in body or in soul, is not the Church always ready to attend us with the best of comfort and instruction?  In the greatest blessings of life, in marriage and childbirth, is not the Church with us to give thanks, and obtain for us a manifold blessing?  and in the greatest sorrows, in the death of dearest friends, in our own death, is not the Church still at hand, to sanctify our troubles, and to lay us gently down in the same gracious Arms, in which she placed us at our Baptism?  Yes indeed, brethren, from beginning to end, we are waited upon, cared for, nursed and cherished by the Holy Church, the Sister and Spouse of Christ.  She never forsakes us; she grudges us no trouble: no tenderness.  Why?  Because she knows what His will is, Who graciously vouchsafes to call her Sister and Spouse: she knows that He has chosen and called and strengthened her, to follow His steps, to be among men as one that serveth.  The Church may be ill-used; slighted, scorned, robbed, persecuted by the governors of a country, by the whole people, or the greater part, by this or that person; but it still goes on waiting upon all. 

We, my brethren, are the children of Christ and of the Church: He has given us of His Spirit, to make us His own, for that purpose, that as He is, so should we be in this world.  We are the children of the Church, and members of Christ: and children ought to be like their parents, therefore we too, each one of us, ought to be among men as he that serveth; that is, Christ expects of us, that we should be evermore waiting on each other.  The Apostle's word is, "By love serve one another:" [Gal. v. 13.] do not account anything your own, your time, your money, your strength, your cleverness, or any good gift besides, wherewith God has favoured you: do not esteem it your own, to do what you please with it, but consider always, that it is your Divine Master's, and that He has trusted you with it for the good of your fellow-servants.  Another Apostle's word is, "Be courteous:" [1 S. Pet. Iii. 8.] that is, whatever company you are in, be always watchful and attentive to do as you would be done by, in little things and in great.  Contrive beforehand to be as kind, and to make yourself as useful, as ever you can.  You know, when you are in company, how you like yourself to be treated; you do not like to be laughed to scorn, rudely thwarted, or passed over: it is pleasant to you to see that people care for you, and attend in a good-natured way to your innocent wants and wishes: well then, you know at once, how you ought to behave to others: how respectful you ought to be to elders, or other superiors, how gentle and considerate to inferiors, how true and yielding to equals.  Endeavour to be all this, which you know you ought to be, and which you wish others to be towards you: endeavour, I say, to be courteous, not to seem so.  There is great danger of our practising these amiable manners, more or less, for the love or fear of men, and because we mind what they will say of us.  Take care, do not depend, do not value yourself on, such courtesy as this: it will be like alms given in public, it will obtain you no reward of your Father which is in I heaven.  But this is the courtesy, these are the charitable works, which will really and truly please God, and profit your soul: when you shew kindness just the same, whether it is likely to be known and praised, or no: when you make no partial or capricious difference between one man and another, but are helpful, friendly, respectful, obliging, to all, quite all, in their degree; when, as in almsgiving, you rather hide than shew, from whom your kind and well-meant doings come; when you look after the pleasure and profit of those whom you do not like, as well as of those to whom you are partial.  All these will be good signs that your courtesy, your attention in ordinary things, as well as any effort you make on a greater occasion, is really Christian and charitable, and for Christ's sake; not put on for the fancy of the moment, to please yourself, or any one else but God.  Remember, He Who made Himself servant to all, and bid us do the same, He was courteous and kind to all, even to those who, at the moment, He knew were treating Him most cruelly and falsely.  When Judas drew near to Him, to betray Him, He said only, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" [S. Matt. xxvi. 50.]  This within a very few hours, perhaps a very few minutes, of His saying those words to His disciples, "I am among you as He that serveth."  It may be, that within a very few hours, perhaps a very few minutes of our hearing the holy lesson which those words have taught us to-day, we may be tried by some very ill behaviour of somebody, or may be called upon to perform some irksome task of charity, to which at the time we may not be at all inclined.  Then let us remember Him, and for His sake keep our tongue from cross and angry words, and our mind from peevish discontented thoughts: and forgive, and do good, and wait on one another with all our hearts: and when we have done all we can for one fellow-Christian, let us not leave off, but presently look out for another, for whom we may do as much, and then for another, and so on to the end.  "Blessed is that servant, whom His Lord when He cometh shall find so doing."  [S. Matt. xxiv.  46.]