The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
The Servant Church
The Church is often criticized today for being far removed from the teaching and model set by Jesus and put before us in Mark’s Gospel – and rightly so. In the first instance Jesus’ words are addressed to his apostles. The model of the then civil government was not to be for them. Jesus’ teaching on service, and being servants one another in the Christian community became common and is central, for instance, to Pauline teaching on the Christian community. Central to the message of today’s Gospel reading is Christ himself as model; self-promotion takes attention away from this.
But to return to the apostles and their successors: the model of service is central to Paul. For the sake of the Gospel he became the servant of all, to win all for Christ. As Jesus reminded his apostles, anyone wishing to become great was to be the servant of all. This did not take from the mission to preach the Gospel. As ministers of the Gospel all were equal, with the same mission from God. The apostle Paul could present himself as the servant of all, but could make it clear that as apostle he preached the Gospel with the confidence that came from his apostolic calling. He could say: “Not I say, but the Lord”. He handed on what he himself had received from the Lord and from earlier Christian tradition.
Applying the Gospel message to the Church of our own day, we can certainly say that the message of being servants of one another applies to the successors of the apostles, and to all Christians. While criticizing the Church for deviation from the Gospel message, one may also note that this should not take from the Church’s prophetic mission to preach the full Gospel message as required in our own day, without fear or favour. In so doing the Church has the model of St Paul, all things to all people, as minister of the Gospel of God.