There once was a young man about to be crowned the king of his country. However, just before his coronation a political crisis arose. A large portion of the country he was about to rule was not so sure that they wanted him as their king. Apparently, the previous king, his father, had made harsh demands on the people and charged very high taxes. They demanded tax cuts and a more lenient rule or they would secede from the country.
The young man asked some old and wise advisors what he should do. This was their advice: “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” In other words, if he would look out for their needs and care for them they would always follow him.
But the young man did not heed the advice and as a result lost a large part of his kingdom. In fact he was not a very good king and was not loved by his people. He did not serve them and so they did not serve him. (You can find this story in the Bible in 1 Kings 12).
It seems to me that the counsel of the advisors is good even today and for any political or social community. If you look out for the needs and cares of your neighbours or town then they will do so in return. If I mow my neighbour’s lawn because his lawnmower is broken then I can expect that he would help me repair my fence should I ask. If leaders serve the needs of the community then they will be respected and upheld.
Now it should be that way. But here is the problem. I have to serve first, which means that first I have to give up my time and my expense. But that feels very risky and it does have a risk factor. There is no guarantee that this goodwill will be returned. If it is not then I will lose out. This may create some fear and anxiety because I want to hang on to what I have. I don’t want to waste my time and energy. The young king in our story liked all that tax money and all the other benefits his father had demanded of the people. Was he really supposed to serve others and risk losing those things?
The risk arises because other people don’t always return the favour; they don’t always serve in return. Anyone in leadership soon comes to understand this. They get taken for granted, criticized and even mocked. And they are simply trying to serve those whom they lead. People are not always very grateful. The reaction sometimes then is to get out of it what I can for myself.
But that attitude is not helpful. The young man took that attitude and ended up losing all those people, all that tax money and the benefits he had, anyway. The truth is we don’t really want to look out for someone who does not look out for us.
Our society is told to get out of life what we can for ourselves. So we gather and keep and hoard and serve only ourselves. Which leads to a lonely life, an individualistic community and a society that doesn’t function all that well.
God made us, so that we are incomplete by ourselves. We need others around us. We need their resources and help. It begins when we take the first step, which is to serve others, to share the resources we have with others. Although it may not happen in every case, over time and when we consistently serve others, they will also serve us. Then community becomes rich and full and pleasurable. But it takes that first step. It takes letting go of what we have and to stop looking out for ourselves. It takes looking out for one another.
Jesus once said, “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) The young man in our story lost a lot because he tried to keep what he had. But what we have is not meant for us to keep for ourselves. It is meant to be lost in the service and care of others. And then we end up preserving our own lives.