Meet the Makarioi (Dispensers of Grace)

BLESSED ARE THE SERVANTS

Blessed (makarios) is that servant whom his Lord finds at work when he returns” (Mt. 24:46).  Man is in search of self-assertion.  He measures his self-worth by the number of men he commands or the responsibility he delegates.  It was at an early age that I aspired to be a cub leader.  And when I was set over two troops, I felt rather important.  However, I felt not as important as my neighbor who was leader over all the cub groups in the district.  In order to acquire more skills to command others, I even was sent away to a training camp.  That was and still is the way the world looks on those who serve and those who are being served. 

In the Bible, great men like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and David were called, “Servants of God.”  They were what they were by the hand of the Almighty.  Changes occurred when men began to exalt other men into royalties.  It was against God’s will that a king was created who practically replaced God as supreme ruler.  The change from “theocracy” to “monarchy” resulted in classifying human beings into casts or classes.  Henceforth, there would be royalty, wealthy, and poor.  The later two would also be known as free men and as slaves.  Just as in our century, the rich became fewer and the poor more.  To keep the masses subdued, military forces or some legal weapons are being used.  But that is not the way of Christ, who had come to serve rather than be served.  Christ demanded that his disciples should also serve rather than to be served.  Jesus had a special place, in His heart, for those who were willing, and those who could stand to serve others to their very end.  He counted them among the “Blessed” or the “makarioi” (Lk. 12:37).

There are two accounts in which Jesus uttered this particular blessing for servants. Both, Matthew and Luke incorporated Jesus statement into similar situations.  Both tried to reproduce Jesus’ view on rendering loyal and dedicated service to others.  Both understood that their service was temporary or shorter.  It would terminate at the return of Jesus, and those, who would execute their duties faithfully, would be rewarded.  Matthew linked Jesus’ saying with his end-time predictions.  Jesus’ servant (doulos) was required to be faithful and wise.  He was expected to be faithful in managing his Master’s property, and to be fair to the servants below him.  He did not consider himself above the others, but merely a steward who wisely administered his owner’s task.  One of the responsibilities was to give each and every one of the other servants their rations and proper dues.  Such a person had to know when, how, and whom to serve.  And in all of his dealings, his own portion or due was never considered.  He simply treated his Master’s property and slaves as if it was his own.  Yet, in the midst of all that, he, himself, remained a slave.  His Master remembers his loyalty and rewards him with making him supervisor over all his properties and servants.

In contrast to the faithful and wise servant, Jesus portrayed one who was foolish and unwise.  This fellow saw a chance to enhance himself at his Master’s expense.  He started off with a wrong idea; namely, my owner is delaying indefinitely and before he gets back I can put things back the way they were before I was put in charge.  Meanwhile, I will enjoy ripping off my benefactor and beat up on those who want or would tell on me.  This servant would live, under the illusion, that he had things in his hand and that no one could surprise him.  He was the temporary boss, and he alone had a golden opportunity to fill his pockets, get drunk, and live it up.  All of this sounds rather contemporary.  It could have been written yesterday for one of our mismanaged firms or government agencies of our day.  But, the day of reckoning is never far away for those who are disloyal toward their responsibilities.  Like a thief, at an unexpected hour, the owner returns and catches the bad servant in the act of disloyalty.  Justice will be swift and severe.  He will be rewarded for his disloyalty and assigned to a place with the hypocrites, where there will be gnashing and grinding of teeth.

For a moment, let us look at the act of justice for those who have such a dim view of being truthful, faithful, prudent, and dependable.  Being dishonest and irresponsible does cause being broken into pieces.  A person’s character and personality will be splashed all over the news and made of no value at all.  Sometimes, one small mistake can ruin us for life and no one will ever trust us again.  In fact, our society will label us for life with the crime that we have committed.  Herein after, we will seek out fellows of our own kind; namely, hypocrites who are just as unreliable as we were and as we have become.  And what sort of comfort will these hypocrites provide?  They will cry with us in anger and plot with us to get even with those who caught us in our crime.  But all that weeping and gnashing of teeth will bring us is more punishment and incarceration.  All of this could have been avoided by carrying out a simple order.

The world, that judges harshly those who lose their trust, does not always judge itself for encouraging unfairness and partiality.  The world is inconsistent with what it teaches and with what it does.  Her children are confused with regard to directions and proper behavior when placed in responsibility. Yet, the world demands of those beneath it to do as they are told and not to do as their superior or owners do.  How then will they learn to be loyal and respectful when those who are above them get off easy or escape altogether for their wrong doings?  This does appear to be happening more than we would like to see it happen.  But this too is temporary.  Such abuse will not, nor can it last.  It will come to an end and punishment will be disgraceful and humiliating.  This is what Luke, the Evangelist, understood Jesus to mean in characterizing a similar situation:  “That servant who knows the will of his Lord and does not prepare himself to carry out that will, will be beaten with many lashes.  But those who do not know and commit acts deserving to be flogged will receive fewer stripes.  To him who has been given much, much will be asked; and to him that has been entrusted with more, the more shall be required” (Lk.12:47-48).

Yes, who is that servant?  According to Luke, Jesus was half-ways through when Peter interrupted and asked, “Are you addressing this parable to us or everyone else?” (Lk.12: 41).  Apparently, Jesus had become a bit too personal or too direct.  This was the time when the disciples were more inclined to argue as too who among them was the greatest rather than who was the servant.  They all wanted to sit on thrones and govern others.  Two of them wanted the highest and best places in Christ’s kingdom.  These men were willing to die for those high positions.  But, were they willing to die for being servants or slaves of others?  Peter was horrified when Jesus offered to wash his feet.  No Lord and Master should have to stoop that low. Yet, that was precisely what Jesus wanted his disciples to be.  Like their Lord, they too were to wash each other’s feet.  No one was to lord it over the others.  They were all equal slaves and servants.  And they were all accountable to keep the feet of the other fellow clean.  Feet were the servant’s only and best vehicle.  They had to be cared for if they were to perform in their daily routines and travels.  Unclean and sick feet were not fit to carry a man’s burden and task.

Jesus’ answer had a different twist.  Jesus still asked the same question, “Who then is that faithful and wise servant?”  Now, however, Jesus did not use the word “doulos” but the word “oikonomos.”  He is not just a servant, but a master – servant, who is over all those who live in his master’s house.  He is a servant of servants.  He has come by that position through direct appointment of his lord, who has great confidence in his ability.  He has been charged over his master’s “therapeias” namely, all his servants both male and female.  It is his master’s belief that a happy and well-taken care off slave makes for a good and loyal servant.  Hence, the supervising servant makes certain that all the servants receive their rations and dues on time.  This noble principle is being neglected in our time.  Today, profits and not workers’ needs are being looked after.  Success is being measured by the bankrolls and not by the unemployment lines.  The irony of this system is that these unemployed are being supported by taxes from these workers, who filled the coffers of the profiteers, who take their pleasures elsewhere.  For instance, we are told that sixty percent of our people have stocks, but only one percent end up with all the big profits.  How cleverly the mighty have camouflaged their hidden agenda of financial exploitation.

The question still is, “Whom do you mean Lord?”  Could it by any chance be me?  “Well, Peter, you said it!  Who is the one on whom I shall built my Church?  Who is the one whom I will instruct to care for my lambs and feed my sheep?”  Peter questioned, “But Lord, am I not the one who will forsake you and deny you?”  And the Lord will answer,  “I know all that.  I also know you will feel sorry and come back to me and then you will make my followers strong.  After you have learned what it means to be a servant, you will become a leader and a blessing to your fellow servants.  Beside all this, I have no one else but you.  You are it.  You I trust with my kingdom and my servants.”  What an enormous confidence our Lord had in Peter!  In a way, the Lord has the same confidence in all his servants.  The Lord knows they will come through and they will earn their place in His kingdom.  And the servants know that the Lord is speaking to them directly and not to somebody else.  Hence, they keep on getting ready for the day their Lord and Master will return.  While they watch, they will girdle their loins and they will keep their lamps constantly lit for their Master’s return for their wedding feast. 

There is no doubt, as to whom the Lord meant, but there is much debate among us whom we mean.  The early Church replaced Peter with James, the Lord’s half-brother.  Paul was not man’s choice, but the Lord’s choice.  Paul and Barnabas quarreled over Mark’s fitness.  Someone submitted Paul’s resume, along with some other prospects to a Church looking for a pastor.  It was not the Apostle who got the nod.  Among those qualifying were some handicapped and women who did no better than Paul.  Even some highly qualified people were turned down because too much education interfered with accepting the Bible at face value.  And then there were qualifications that the Lord, Himself, forgot to mention.  Those who were most successful in being called were people who claimed to have some very special gift and those who were hearing the Lord talk to them personally.  Those that were in charge of selecting their leaders did not exactly chose a “makarios” or a “makaria.”  The qualification for “makarioi” was or is no longer applicable.