We have largely dismissed the notion of true service – that service which requires something of us for which we gain nothing in return as if it were but a notion.
One may assume that a public servant is one whose duty it is to serve the public. While that may be true, how and in what capacity they serve is varied. The term public servant encompasses a large group of people who work in all sectors of government from police officers and technical staff to senators and governors. But when I see the title public servant I immediately connect it with an elected representative.
This elected servant fills his role by serving to represent the best interests of the body – that is his body of constituents – before his peers and those who enact law and public policy. In taking that oath of office he agrees to dismiss his own prejudice and determines to act lawfully on his constituents behalf. But there remains that potential for these public servants to imagine such self-importance that they are quickly reduced to those who simply serve in public. Can we in good conscience call this service? For what are they serving but to enhance their own ego and secure greater power for themselves and special interests?
What answer is there? What recourse when the discourse has become such that ordinary individuals are considered inconsequential – mere pebbles in the politician’s shoe. In the republic there is but one answer, remove the shoe of the politician so that he no longer must deal with the pressure of the pebbles which threaten to upset him. If he can no longer bear the abrasion then he may no longer serve the public that grates so frequently against his conscience.
It seems so few are immune to this reality, and it is unfortunate that history supports this. It is a wonder that any man or woman survives the political arena much less emerges unscathed. I have facetiously wondered if the rites to enter public office include the dismantling of ones principles along with their prejudice. Though there are exceptions, it is a tragedy that so many are blinded by power and influence. For too often what rises in policy bears little in resemblance to what many public servants promised when they left home and entered the capitol, be it in their respective states or in Washington itself.
Shall our public servants be the left alone to shoulder this blame? No. We have failed to hold them accountable either through our apathy or our ignorance. We can no more extricate ourselves from responsibility than we can remove ourselves from the human race. We have left inconvenient, albeit important matters in the hands of humans given to every temptation. When given license and free reign one may be prone to corruption with what is mistaken as the very will of the people at his back. He surmises, “The people put me here. They trust my judgment, and I indeed know what is best for them even if they do not know it themselves.” This logic gives rise to pride and pride gives way to the fall.
We can trace this to Adam and his original sin. Adam and Eve discounted God’s warning and gave in to the serpent’s temptation thinking it would put them on level footing with God. Even Solomon, noted as the wisest man who ever lived, pursued foolishness in his old age, forsook the living God and followed after his lusts, bowing down to wood and stone. Each of these individuals was given tremendous power only to squander it on their own passions.
In contrast, Jesus always sought the will of God before acting. This discipline allowed him to see beyond himself. Observe Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper before his crucifixion:
"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." John 13:14-17
Also, when asked about leadership positions in Jesus Kingdom, Jesus responded:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
This is the public servant which I long to see in myself and in my community - the kind that lays down his life and considers others before himself. I wonder what that job listing might look like.