Treating one another as equals is the principle on which we build communities and societies in our world. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights insure that men and women and people of every color have the right to vote and the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
From the beginning Jesus challenges Christians to live in mutual love, despite differences between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women. Sunday’s gospel insists that in the Christian community those who serve the rest are the greatest.
Serving one another in mutual love and treating one another as equals aren’t easy. In the first community in Jerusalem Christians shared their wealth by putting their money in a common pot. The community then provided for everyone. But when some Jewish Christians overlooked or refused to provide food for Greek-speaking widows, conflict arose. The community appointed deacons to make sure everyone received food. The title deacon means server in Greek (Acts 6.1-6).
The verb serve describes the work slaves and women usually did — wash clothes, cook, wait tables, feed animals, wash feet. A master or husband can order a slave or wife to perform such
duties. In this sense to serve means to submit, to obey.
Jesus challenges his followers to build a community that reverses the usual pecking order in Roman families, in which the father was head and then in rank, the wife, children, males slaves, female slaves. The members of Jesus’ community call no one father. “Only one is your father, the One in heaven.” The community has only one teacher — the messiah.
Early Christians formed communities of equals and challenged one another to love as Jesus loved them, not as a household in which some submitted to the authority of others. Instead they called one another brother and sisters, terms of equal rank. In serving one another they lived out Jesus’ challenge to mutual love.
The baptismal formula that Paul includes in a letter to the Galatians describes the Christian community as being one in Christ. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3.28).
Most Christians live out Jesus’ challenge in the sacrament of marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church understands marriage as a sacrament of service. A husband and wife love each other mutually. Each partner seeks his or her well-being in the other. The health of their children rests on the well-being of their relationship, so ultimately does the well-being of society.
Practicing equality and mutual love takes work and ongoing personal change. Every teen whose skin is some shade of color will have experienced prejudice. White teens have little awareness their skin color gives them privileges. Chess players may get less respect than athletes in school.
Many young people need support — friends whose parents are divorcing, classmates with poor self image, those learning to speak English or fit into American culture. To follow Jesus is to follow a leader with no wealth or position, who identifies with the least among us and serves the rest.
Respect for the human person considers the other another self.Catechism of the Catholic Church #1944