Table for Four, Please
Permit me to tell you a story of a wonderful family vacation.
I was about fourteen years old when my family and I decided to take the trip to see our relatives in Thomson, Georgia. My sister was about 4 years old then and the details of the trip have actually escaped me over time. But there is nothing quite like an 8-hour car ride with four people crammed into a vehicle. Bonding time, for sure.
For whatever reason, there is one event that I will never forget that occurred on this trip. And that was the dinner stop. We stopped to eat an early 5pm dinner at an all-American type restaurant in Jasper, Alabama. It was a franchised establishment, so we were familiar with the menu, the cost, and the service.
“Table for four, please.”
I need to stop right here for a moment and let the memories flood back. You know how you can always tell when you’re about to be in for a disastrous dining experience? You have to remember that this was back in those days when water on the table was automatic and silverware awaited you upon arrival to your table. No such luck here.
“Your server will be with you shortly.”
We waited. And waited. And waited. I’m not really clear as to why we didn’t just get up and leave. I guess we were just hungry. When the water and silverware finally did arrive (nearly 10 minutes later), the waitress was very apologetic. No problem.
“Are y’all ready to order?”
“We would be, but we don’t even have menus.”
I do remember what I ordered. Spaghetti with meat sauce…mmm, that sounds good. I’ll have that. Don’t remember what my parents ordered, but I do remember the salad bar. This restaurant was famous for its salad bar! Unfortunately, it appeared as though a stampede of elephants had devoured every morsel of nutrition from said salad bar. Dejected, we went back to our seats.
45 minutes later…
“Your food should be out any minute. Sorry for your wait.”
By this time, my dad was brimming with unbridled fury. It was now almost 6:30 and we still had a 5 hour drive ahead of us. Not to mention, the hunger welling within me was beginning make my stomach hurt.
“I’m sorry it’s taking so long, we’re a little short-handed tonight.”
45 minutes later…
“I think your food’ll be out in a minute.”
10 minutes later…
“Where is our waitress?”
It was at this moment when my father had reached his breaking point. No sooner had he gotten up to give the manager a piece of his mind, that our food arrived. Only about half our order was correct, but we proceeded to eat it anyway. My spaghetti looked and smelled like generic, old, wet dog food. Because I was so hungry, I ate it without complaint. By this time it was now nearly 8:00 and apparently the kitchen had gotten so hectic that half the restaurant staff had walked out in the middle of their shifts. Our waitress looked rather exasperated, as I’m sure she didn’t receive much of a tip that night from any table. I can’t even remember what or even if we paid for our measly meal.
I should mention that “waiter” or “waitress” isn’t really the accepted nomenclature for this occupation these days. A more appropriate title would be “server.”
It’s funny how many of us are quite apt to serve others, but when it comes to being served, we often have a hard time. Keeping in mind that they are called “servers,” we tend to mistreat these people when they have failed to do just that. Why is that? Why can’t we just let others serve us? Is it a pride thing? Do we not feel worthy to be served? Does being served make us feel any less than we are? Because it shouldn’t. Jesus said,
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20).
Oh sure, the Bible tells of many stories where human beings are called by God to do many undesirable and unthinkable things for His glory. But I am hard pressed to find a place in the Bible more awkward than what Jesus did for his disciples at the onset of the Lord’s Supper. He served them by committing one of the most socially-unacceptable acts of this day. He performed it without complaint, without reward, and without hesitation. Most importantly, he did it out of love. John’s Gospel tells it better:
“…he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand. “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:2-8)
I have a difficult time imagining Jesus, the Lord and Savior of all mankind, washing the feet of anyone! I’d rather think of Jesus the way I want to think of him. Healing the sick, helping the poor, and teaching the children are what I constantly envision Jesus doing. Yes, this is the Jesus that suits me. But what about the Jesus who serves others? What about the Jesus who serves us?
In his book Serving Without Sinking, author John Hindley explains why we are not to shun being served by others:
Jesus came to serve. Jesus comes into our lives to serve us. There is no catch, there is just loving, humble, kind service by the Creator of the cosmos to and for us. Jesus does not wait to see if you will serve him, he simply serves you. His greatness is not that he can command the service of millions, it is that he serves millions.
But still, this is difficult to grasp. Human beings are very proud creatures in that when we serve others, we are serving Christ–not because we are asked to, but because we should want to. Again, this is done without reward or recognition of any kind. But when it comes to being served ourselves, we tense up and think of everything we can do to reject this service. Based on Jesus’ teachings, this is not acceptable on our part.
The waitress — I mean, server –– had every reason to join the rest of the staff by walking out of the restaurant that night. But my guess is she needed the job and was willing to accept the fodder from angry customers, abusive kitchen staff, and a bombardment of bad attitudes coming at her from all directions.
I’ll bet that it’s difficult to constantly serve people when they neither appreciate nor care about you. When they give you a hard time. When they admonish you. When they humiliate you. When they don’t even acknowledge your existence.
I believe that Jesus knows something about this.
Our challenge is to accept the fact that allowing ourselves to be served by others is just as, if not more, important than serving others. And that’s only because it requires even more discipline. It’s difficult to accept Jesus Christ as a servant rather than one whom God commands us to serve.
“The Servant Song” by Richard Gillard speaks volumes:
Brother, let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.
Rev. Sam Jones
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April 25, 2021Table for Four, Please