There is a special kind of service that comes from the heart. The ancient Greeks had a word for it, diakonia. It is the root of the English adjective diaconal and the noun deacon. We Christians are called to be a diaconal people: a people in loving service to God and to our neighbor.
The role model for deacons and for all baptized Christians is the Servant Christ. Jesus, as he is depicted in the gospel for Holy Thursday, sets the example of how we are called to live our lives. At the end of that Gospel, after he has washed the feet of his friends, Jesus tells them that he has given them a model to follow: “As I have done for you, you should also do.”
It’s not just the symbolic act of washing the feet of another; it’s not just the act of serving. It’s that very special service that comes from the heart - diakonia – that we are called to.
Real diakonia, genuine loving service, needs to be freely given to everyone. Not just to our loved ones but also to those who have hurt us deeply; also to those who act and live in ways we find hard to understand; also to those who have turned away from God and from all human goodness.
This is what sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies: If we only love those who love us, what great thing is that? But if we love, genuinely love, those who hurt us, that is the real deal. And Jesus is the realest deal that ever was or ever will be.
We all know the Holy Thursday gospel story; we all have the image of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. What many people miss, however, is the presence of Judas, the person who hurt and betrayed Jesus. Judas is not excluded - Jesus washes his feet with the same loving service he extends to the others.
As Lent comes to an end, as we prepare to meet the Risen Christ, let us examine our lives, and reach out - like Jesus - with forgiveness and loving service to those who have hurt us, even if it’s not reciprocated. Perhaps the greatest Lenten gift we can offer to God will be to reach out to those with whom we are estranged and reopen the doors and the windows of our hearts.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:
Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life
Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry