To be read: March 12, July 12, November 12
The brothers should serve each other so that no one will be excused from the work in the kitchen, unless he is sick or involved in more important work, 2because such service increases the reward and promotes love. 3Let help be given to the weak, so that they may serve without distress, 4but let all receive help according to the size of the community and the circumstances of the place. 5If the community is large, let the Cellarer be excused from kitchen service, and, as we have said, anyone engaged in more urgent work. 6Let the rest serve each other in love.
Every Christian is an imago Christi—the image of Christ—and so, how we behave as Christians reflects upon Christ. What others see in us is what they “imagine” Christ to be because we are the “image” of Christ. And how we treat others is indicative of the love that we are showing for Christ Himself, for we are to seek Christ in the other person, to see him or her also as the imago Christi. Serving Christ in the other, whether our task be at the kitchen table, cleaning the bathroom, treating and caring for the sick, the young, or the elderly, or giving space to the other with our silence, it is all for Christ.
The specific topic of chapter 35 is the kitchen servers. But this topic has much more to say to us than serving tables. Those of us seeking to follow Benedict’s Rule on the outside of the monastic enclosure don’t have kitchen servers, readers at meals, or limitations on when we can take those meals. So how does this teaching apply to our community? The key for us is found in the first verse of chapter 35: “The brothers should serve one another.” And at the end of the paragraph, Benedict reiterates: “Let the rest serve one another in love” (vs. 6).
Whether it is our brothers and sisters in Christ in the parish, or the perfect stranger on the street, if we maintain an attitude of reverence for Christ in the other, and serve them as we would serve Christ Jesus Himself, we will fulfill the heart of this Rule. To love our neighbor as ourselves is not the second great suggestion—it is the second great commandment. And Jesus put the exclamation point on that command when He said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Jesus showed His love not only by washing our feet; He showed His love for us by dying on the Cross for our sake. That is the imago Christi, the Christian who is willing to lay down his life for his neighbor. As Benedict says, “such service increases the reward and promotes love.”