Reading Time: 4 mins

Serving the Slave of All

Reading Time: 4 mins

St. Patrick was great but only because he was a slave to Christ.

“Whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all” (Mark 10:44).

Sometime during the 400’s A.D., a teenage slave first set foot on the island of Ireland. His name was Patricius, which roughly translates to “rich boy.” He was the son of a wealthy Roman nobleman. Patricius was kidnapped by slave trading pirates from his homeland in Roman Briton and sold to a pagan Celtic chieftain. 

Patricius’ slavery consisted of working as a shepherd boy, tending the sheep of his master. It was a hard life. If you know anything about the cool, damp, rainy climate of coastal Ireland, it’s much better to view from a distance - in travel books or from a train window - than to actually live and work in.

Exactly how Patricius’ slavery as a shepherd ended is shrouded in legends. However, we know that he escaped and returned to his family’s home in Briton. Sometime later, Patricius became a monk and was then ordained a priest. After some time, the lad—who had grown into a man and was now known as “Patrick”—went back to Ireland. 

Once again, he went to Ireland as a slave and a shepherd. But this time, Patrick’s servitude was to the call of Christ, and the manner in which he was shepherd is best reflected in the Latin word for shepherd. Patrick went to Ireland as a pastor. He went to preach the Gospel of Jesus and to gather and shepherd the lost sheep of the Emerald Isle. [1]

Now we know him as St. Patrick, and each March 17, many people around the world commemorate him, even though they may not understand why St. Patrick was so great. He was great but only because he was a slave to Christ. He served the Irish by preaching the good news to them.

But Patrick is not the first among us, and this missionary saint would freely admit so.

The first among us is our Lord Jesus Christ. And though he was rich beyond all noblemen and kings, he truly became the greatest servant ever, the slave of all. He did so through his death, by which he gave his life as a ransom for us all.

In Mark 10:32-45, Jesus told his disciples that he was going up to Jerusalem to be “delivered over to the chief priests and scribes” who would deliver him “over to the Gentiles” to be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed.”

In response to this sobering news, James and John made an astoundingly audacious request. They asked Jesus if they could sit at his left hand and his right hand, when he came into the glory of his kingdom. After this, the other disciples became furious at these two. The disciples all wanted to share the glory of Jesus’ kingdom. They were completely tone deaf. Jesus told them that he was about to suffer and die, and all they could think about is clamoring for who gets the best seat at the table.

The disciples had the completely wrong mindset about Jesus. They still thought of him as an earthly, political messiah, who would take control, kick out the Romans, and restore the Davidic monarchy. The disciples saw Jesus as an earthly king, and they hoped that the time had come for him to conquer and rule.

To be sure, Jesus was about to embark upon a conquest. But it would not be a military campaign against the legions of Tiberius Caesar or the mercenaries of Herod. The conquest of Jesus would be over the tyrants of sin, death, and the devil. But the strategy that Jesus would employ was a very strange one. Jesus would conqueror by serving. He would triumph by giving himself up unto death. He would win by losing. He would be crowned king through being treated as a slave.

For crucifixion was a death for a slave who rebelled. It was the kind of death enacted against insurgents who followed Spartacus, a slave who staged a failed revolt against the Roman Empire. 

No Roman citizen could be crucified. Crucifixion was reserved for the lowest ranks in society. The cross was a means of capital punishment for bandits, rebels, pirates, and escaped slaves. The cross was certainly not a death befitting a king. If a king had to die a violent death, he should die valiantly in battle. 

But the only enemies against whom Jesus would battle would be unseen to the witness of his crucifixion. For those watching him die, Jesus would seem to be a failure, someone who was crushed on the wheel of Roman justice. He would appear to be just one more crucified slave.

But through his death on the cross, Jesus did conquer, and through his resurrection from the dead, Jesus opened his kingdom to all who believe. This is why Jesus came. This is why he became a slave and died on the cross, to be King of all by first serving all, by dying and rising for them. 

On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus foresaw this. He knew that being covered in his own blood through the gruesome death of crucifixion awaited him. He knew that even now, the cup of suffering was being prepared for Him—a cup full of mocking, spitting, and beating.

Jesus is the slave of all. He gave his life as a ransom for all—for the first disciples, for Patrick, for the Irish pagans, for all of us, and for those around us who still don’t know him.

Already, the mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish of his approaching suffering and death had begun. Already, Jesus had begun to undergo the sorrow and pain of his passion. For Jesus had begun to walk the road up to the hill of Jerusalem, where a cross was waiting for him, a cross where Jesus would be the slave of all in order to win all for his kingdom.

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

Jesus accomplished that service by his sacrificial death for us by dying on the cross in our place. 

Now, we belong to the servant-King Jesus. Now, we belong in the kingdom of the One who served us by giving his life for us. We belong to the One who has ransomed us with his own blood. We belong to the one who has bought us back from sin, death, and the devil.

And now, we get to serve him. Jesus served us, in order that we may serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We serve him by serving others. We serve others by helping them in their daily needs and by bringing them the good news that Jesus, the slave of all, has served them too. 

St. Patrick served the people of Ireland by bringing the good news of the servant Jesus to the pagans of Ireland. For this reason, we remember Patrick as a missionary who served by proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection and shepherding the flock of God on the Emerald Isle. 

Jesus is the slave of all. He gave his life as a ransom for all—for the first disciples, for Patrick, for the Irish pagans, for all of us, and for those around us who still don’t know him. Now, we get to serve too. We get to serve those who don’t know Jesus by sharing the grace and love of his servant heart with them, so they too may sit at his right and his left in his kingdom.