Living a Gospel-centered life is "revolutionary precisely because it begins and ends with service." Jesus himself came to serve.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Esther explores what it means to serve with a tender heart … and how we can live that revolution every day.
Just before coming to the United States, Pope Francis offered a gentle entreaty: “We are asked to live the revolution of tenderness, as Mary our Mother did.”
The revolution of tenderness.
Dare we imagine such a thing? It seems impossible, almost preposterous in our postmodern world. These days, gentleness is often viewed as ineffective, and tenderness is often mistaken for weakness. Perhaps, though, this is exactly why we need a revolution of tenderness: because tenderness itself is revolutionary.
When I think of a revolution of tenderness, I’m reminded of the old adage: “Everybody wants a revolution, nobody wants to do the dishes.” Revolution sounds all glamorous and hip until you get assigned to kitchen duty, right? I think the same is true of a Gospel-ordered life: it’s revolutionary precisely because it begins and ends with service. Jesus told us He came not to be served, but to serve. The upside-down world of a Christ-centered way of life means that the greatest among us are not the power brokers on center stage but the invisible workers elbow-deep in soapy dishwater. And as any dishwasher can tell you, if you’re not gentle with the glasses and plates you’ll end up with a shattered mess.
A revolution of tenderness begins with how we treat each other and how we view those who need our help. When Pope Francis spoke before the United States Congress, he began by addressing those who “strive to do an honest day’s work” and “who, in their own quiet way, sustain society.” The gentleness of his voice and the tenderness of his words were both compelling and convicting.
Too often I’ve been more concerned with “fixing” people rather than sitting with them in the tenderness of a personal encounter. Too often I’d rather “be right” than “risk” opening my heart to mutually respectful, gentle dialogue. Too often I’m more concerned with public ministry than invisible service. Pope Francis reminded me that Jesus doesn’t call me to Save the World or Fix All The Problems. Jesus simply calls me to love.
And love is made manifest through service.
I’ve heard some Christians say that they don’t give to the poor because they “don’t know how that money is being spent.” I’ve been guilty of saying the same thing. But Pope Francis’ visit provided a different lens for me: mainly, that giving to the poor isn’t about me. When I say I don’t know how the money is being spent, I’m actually saying that the poor—or the humanitarian organizations that serve them—need to meet my terms and conditions before I’m willing to help. This is not to say that sloppy financial dealings are OK, but to remind us that if we wait until the conditions are perfect, we’ll never serve.
The point is, none of us who claim to follow Jesus get to pass on service. Service is following Jesus. Service is the revolution of tenderness. So, let it begin with me and the way I treat everyone I encounter. Let it begin with me and the way I give to the poor: not as “charity cases” to whom I condescend to serve, but as precious souls I honor through the dignity of personal, human encounter. Let the revolution of tenderness begin with a tender heart.
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