Last Tuesday I was at St William’s in Round Rock for daily mass, and Fr Dean’s homily got me thinking. That day the gospel was from Luke, on the servant who comes in from the field:
“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Luke 17: 7-10)
This parable has been been a hard one for me. My natural reaction was typically along the lines of, “But if the servant did a hard day’s work, shouldn’t he get to eat before working some more? What about Jesus washing his disciples feet? Doesn’t it seem nice that Jesus would say serve the servant? But that’s not what Jesus says.
Fr Dean talked about the attitude of entitlement in connection with this parable. Entitlement. That word got me thinking. Is it possible that this attitude of entitlement is connected with individualism? And is individualism not a significant part of the atmosphere you and I live and breath in our culture?
In the past four hundred years, individualism has developed and isolated people in a truly alarming way. It has thrown people in a one-sided way back on themselves, over-emphasizing the element of being oneself, it has deprived them of the happiness and spontaneity of sharing with others, it has prevented them from saying ‘you’ with all its resonances – either to the human or the divine ‘you’. … Today this takes its bitter revenge on human nature in human society as a whole. (Fr Joseph Kentenich, Free and Wholly Human, page 65)
It’s a thought worth pursuing. Jesus was teaching about the ‘attitude of servant’ (that’s the subheading in the gospel). If we only do what we are obliged or commanded to do – if we only fulfill our minimum job description, so to speak, how is that true service and true discipleship? In doing our job, we are each looking out for ourselves. I do my duty, I get my paycheck, and I take care of myself. But Jesus is calling us to go beyond ourselves in a real relationship with Him and with others.
Here’s a modern natural example that came to mind: kids doing chores around the house. Growing up in my family, we didn’t do chores as an extra favor to our parents. We did chores because we were a part of the family and we knew that the whole family was expected to participate in taking care of all that comes with that: dishes, mopping, cleaning, simple meal prep, etc. Family life naturally demands work. We knew it wasn’t our parents “job” to do everything for us. We knew we each had a “job” in the family, and when we completed that job, we weren’t rewarded or praised as if we’d gone above and beyond and done something totally amazing (Imagine something like, “Oh my goodness, thank you so, so much for washing the dishes, you did such a good job, I just really appreciate you doing your chore!! Sorry for interrupting your fun, thank you for the favor, and now you can go back to your game.”) Rather, we were just recognized for doing our expected part (“Thanks for doing your chore. Since you’ve finished your chore, now you’re free to play or do whatever you like). That was being a good ‘servant’ in our family. When we had done our chores, we knew we were not entitled to any exaggerated praise or glory, and we knew we hadn’t really gone ‘above and beyond,’ we just had done what was expected as a part of the family.
So is it possible that this attitude of entitlement, as opposed to the attitude of a servant, is a part of the individualism in our culture? I think so. If I’m only thinking about “me and mine,” I’m not thinking about what is demanded of me by my being a part of a family or community. And I’m also not thinking about how that community is there for me in my own times of need. That sounds like a lonely, isolating, and self-sufficient position. If I’m feeling alone and self-sufficient, and everything is up to me to take care of me- what if something goes wrong? What anxiety springs from that thought! If it’s all up to me, I better get mine while I can, because I can only count on myself. That’s entitlement, right there.
Such a person lives with only one thought: I and my world. I and my ideas and ideals. I and my goals. The community – whether the family, the state or society – is, according to this mentality, only held together by a common interest, so it is unaware of anything over and above the individual. The individual is everywhere the measure and maker of things. (Fr Joseph Kentenich, Free and Wholly Human, page 41)
Entitlement does not come from a heart at rest. Entitlement does not come from a heart at peace with itself and with the community. Being entitled is an anxious position that comes from a splintered relationship between self and other, between self and God. If I have the faith of a mustard seed (which are Jesus’ words right before the servant parable), then I will believe and know, with no anxiety, that God will take care of my needs, and that He knows better than me what my needs are and how I need them met. And if I have faith in others, I will see the possibility of entrusting myself to them, and the possibility of what can be done together. And in this light of faith, I will also know myself and my position before God and my community in humility and truth, as one member of a great family – a great family in which I have a role, responsibilities, and duties. But if I have no faith in God, if I have no faith in others and in my community, and no faith in my own personal call to answer to God, to the community, and to answer to life, then I must scramble for what I need, and in my loneliness and anxiety, attempt to be self-sufficient.
Let us examine our own inner attitude in the grace and silence of our Blessed Mother’s mantle. And let us hear the call to participate with the attitude of a servant in our relationships with our loved ones, with God, and with this great human family. May our anxiousness pass away into faith, and may our entitlement give way before the great and merciful love of God, which calls us each to give an answer to love.