“Serve” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel, when Jesus teaches his disciples that “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The Greek word used in this verse, diakoneó, means servant, but one who is very active, almost tirelessly energetic, since this word comes from two other words: diá (thoroughly) and konis (dust). In a more literal sense, this means that the servant is so active that his feet are kicking up dust and making a dust cloud all around him—a visual imagery not unlike the Peanuts character Pigpen.
This word is used to describe many kinds of servants throughout the New Testament, such as the angels who ministered to Jesus (see Matthew 4:11) and the servants at the wedding at Cana to whom Mary commanded, Do whatever Jesus tells you (see John 2:5), a command that is applicable even to this day for all people who are called to minister, all people who are called to serve—which is all people.
This service is not meant to be a burden, but to recall the great gift of God in the Garden of Eden—the gift of work. From the very beginning, he desired all of us to work when “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Work before the original sin was not toilsome. God gave man work that was as joyful as God’s work in creating the universe. It was service for the other, not service for the self. It was the joy of altruism; it was the joy of unstinting love. It was the joy of being caked in the dirt of the Garden of Eden, thoroughly covered in dust with the joy of service.
God continually calls each of us to serve, not to be served, but he also calls us to find joy in that service. Let us ask him today to give us joy in serving him, to fill us with the joy of doing whatever he tells us, to thoroughly cover us in the dust of our joyful service.