Dignifying Service

Luke 18:35  “As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”  Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.”

The elderly--especially widows--are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society. Sadly, old age can bring with it a loss of economic security, physical strength, and companionship. When people are no longer identified by what they do, what they have, or who they know, they become silenced citizens on the periphery of society. Without instruction from God’s Word, this demographic can be misunderstood, neglected, and even dishonored.

Words from a college student who served elderly with SLAM: “My favorite experience was working in the high-rise towers. I was able to meet a woman named Kay. At first, she seemed very anxious but we were able to explain what we were doing and she got a lot more comfortable. By the end, I prayed for her. Before this trip I couldn’t imagine praying out loud.”

Words from a college student who served elderly with SLAM: “My favorite experience was working in the high-rise towers. I was able to meet a woman named Kay. At first, she seemed very anxious but we were able to explain what we were doing and she got a lot more comfortable. By the end, I prayed for her. Before this trip I couldn’t imagine praying out loud.”

The above passage is a wonderful example of how Jesus serves, and one that I often use when preparing our volunteers for service opportunities. Following Jesus’ example, we teach them how to minister to widows and elderly with dignity.

The story in Luke puts Jesus in the proximity of someone with need. Though perhaps some passers-by had responded with compassion by dropping a coin at his feet, what the text tells us is that the beggar’s voice, his cry for mercy, is silenced. That is until Jesus comes on the scene. “What do you want me to do for you?” Instead of assuming the man’s need, Jesus gives him a voice that demonstrates his value in his present condition, which is financially destitute, physically disabled, and alone.

Years ago, I visited an 80-year-old widower who had asked for help to clean his house. His wife passed away a year earlier. The kitchen counters were cluttered, the floors needed to be mopped, and blinds were coated with dust. I was happy to have a few hours to help this gentleman by doing some little deep cleaning.

“I’m ready to get started.” I announced as I began to fill a bucket of soapy water to clean the kitchen counters and floors. “I would like for you to clean everything on those shelves,” the old man said as he pointed up. Above the kitchen cabinets, shelves ran the length of three walls and were filled with small porcelain knick-knacks.  “I’d like for you to take them all down, wash them, and put them back.”

Reluctantly, I climbed up a kitchen chair to the countertop and collected the figurines which were covered with a layer of grease and dust. Nearly four hours later, the hundreds of small figurines had been washed and returned to the shelf. “All done,” I said feeling a little frustrated at having to do a low priority task that took all the time I had to help him.

A group of college students from Michigan spent their spring break in Nashville. Visiting elderly at a senior citizen housing complex, students discovered that what many of the residents wanted was an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

A group of college students from Michigan spent their spring break in Nashville. Visiting elderly at a senior citizen housing complex, students discovered that what many of the residents wanted was an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

“Thank you,” he said smiling and looking up at the figurines. “My wife was so good about keeping everything clean, especially her special collection up there.  I can do most stuff around the house, but I can’t get up there to clean her things.” When I left, he was sitting at the kitchen table staring up at the glistening porcelain figures and smiling. That day, he wanted more than a clean kitchen. He wanted to remember his wife in a way that had meaning for him.

This summer hundreds of youth, middle-school to college, will come to our Nashville campus for a week of corporate Bible studies, worship and service projects. As they prepare to visit widows in their home or elderly living in complexes for low-income senior citizens, Jesus’ example must inform our practice. The youth will have cleaning supplies, lawn maintenance equipment, and home maintenance tools so they are ready to do whatever may be needed. But first, they will learn to ask the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Asking, listening and doing is vital in serving another in a dignified way.