Jobs For Pals
2 Timothy 4.18 The Lord will rescue me
from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom.
It can be extraordinarily
difficult for Westerners to understand how other cultures work. It is as
though they have been born blind to all but their own way of seeing
things. The result is often an air of uncomprehending superiority.
Perhaps their myopia derives in part from isolation, a lack of
day-to-day exposure to racially and culturally different communities.
The nations of Europe and the people of the United States are, despite
everything, much like each other. And when their peoples travel abroad
as tourists, they have limited interest in those amongst whom they
holiday. Britons want beer and chips in Siberia. Americans want hot dogs
and MacDonald's in Samoa.
Or perhaps Westerners have forgotten their
history. So when they complain about corruption in other countries, they
forget that bribes were the norm in Europe not that long ago - and still
are, behind the scenes. They refuse to admit that Western politicians
are not particularly honest but just more sophisticated about dirty
deals than their developing counterparts.
More likely, they don't
realise that they are carrying on a way of life marked by Jesus as "the
way God does things" (otherwise known as "the kingdom of God").
Despite many lapses this way of life has penetrated Christian
communities and nations deeply and (one hopes) permanently.
Let me explain. Mark 10.35-40 tells how James and John ask Jesus for
top jobs when he inaugurates his kingdom. In Matthew's account
(20.20-23), it is their mother who does the asking. Most people in the
West would react negatively to this story, dismissing the two disciples
as cheap opportunists.
In the West jobs have to be earned, not given
away. Nepotism is regarded as despicable because it deprives the worthy
of deserved advantage and gives it to the undeserving. Jobs for pals
strikes at the heart of democracy.
But this is not the norm for the
vast majority even today. Ties of family and faith are paramount in many
countries - as they were until very recently in the West. In many parts
of Africa, for example, it would be a social crime to deny a family
member a job if it was in your gift.
James and John were calling Jesus
to account. It was his duty to favour them if he possibly could. He
should know that it's right to reward those you know and those you owe.
However, it's important to notice what both gospel authors place
directly after this incident. It is an injunction by Jesus which
startled and displeased his followers. And it is one which to this day
is transforming, bit by bit, the foundations of communities all over the
The disciples are expecting preferment. What they get is
something very different. "If you want a job," says Jesus, "be a servant
to all. The person who is at the top of the pile in God's eyes is the
faithful employee." And by implication, "Jobs for pals isn't the way God
Regrettably, the Church's prayers remain full of
requests that God give Christians their due as his children. We lay
claim to be part of God's extended family in a way that non-Christians
are not. We think we deserve favours because (so we suppose) we belong
to God, and God belongs to us.
For example, some Church prayers
include the request that we "... may be partakers with the saints of
your heavenly kingdom" or "... that we, with the whole company of
Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom." That is, if we do the right
thing here on earth, then we deserve to be treated right when the
reckoning up comes. We want the heavenly equivalent of jobs for pals.
Advent has always had that emphasis about it. We look forward to
Christmas - but also to the great Christmas in the sky when a grateful
Jesus will sit us round the heavenly table and we'll have a right old
In truth, then, Christians have nothing to feel superior about
when they sneer at bribery and nepotism. For they tend to perpetuate a
jobs-for-pals way of doing things rather than a determination to serve
and not to count the cost.
Indeed, non-Christians have a good point
when they wonder at the gap between word and deed displayed by some
Christians and many churches. How is it possible, they ask, that Jesus
taught servanthood and yet Christians lord it over others in so many
So Advent could be redirected to better effect. Rather than
expecting Jesus to come in power and glory - as tradition has so often
put it - it would be more appropriate to sing the praises of Jesus as a
humble servant who comes unnoticed and goes unappreciated.
is that this sort of role isn't popular. There are few applications for
the job of washing feet.