No Longer Servants, but Friends

by the Rev. Paul McLain


I have learned that it is important that I not only honor my mom on Mother’s Day but also honor my mother-in-law. Ruthie’s mom Darlene grew up in Weippe, Idaho, a small town where the Nez Perce Indians saved the starving Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. Darlene is part Cherokee, proud of her Indian heritage, and is a true rugged individualist from the Western frontier.


As a young mother of three girls, she moved her family from Canada to Monticello, Mississippi, where her husband had a job opportunity with a large paper mill. This was in the 1960s and the social scene in Monticello was much like that depicted in Jackson in The Help. Darlene felt it was an expectation to have a Black maid, so she hired Lizzie as her maid. But from her Northwestern frontier upbringing, Darlene had no idea what to do with a maid.


On the days she picked up Lizzie for work, Darlene had already cleaned the house because she saw Lizzie as an important guest coming into her home. When Lizzie arrived, Darlene would have coffee and cake laid out on the table for the two of them. She would invite Lizzie to sit down, they would drink their coffee together, and share stories. When they had finished their visit and it was time for her to go to work, Lizzie would look around the house and think, “Well, there’s nothing here for me to do!”


Ruthie remembers that her Mom was less an employer and more like a social worker to Lizzie. But, over time, the relationship of Darlene and Lizzie became something deeper – they became friends.


This week’s Gospel marks a change in the relationship of Jesus to his disciples.


He says to them, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” A servant is given an order, often without knowing how that order fits into the overall purpose of one’s master. A friend shares a personal relationship, is in one’s inner circle, and is let in on a fellow friend’s plans and dreams. In essence, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “I now trust you enough to unveil the curtain. I want to show you what the kingdom of God is all about. And I want you to be my partners in making it happen.” To honor another theme of this season, this marks a graduation day for the disciples. Jesus is acknowledging that they have followed him well, they have learned, and they are ready.


As Darlene listened to Lizzie’s stories about her family, she learned that Lizzie had a sister who had moved to Chicago with her young daughters. Darlene thought, “Well, we have all these heavy winter clothes from Canada that our girls will never need in south Mississippi. Why don’t I send them to Lizzie’s family in Chicago?” And, that is exactly what she did. Ruthie remembers them boxing up all sorts of heavy coats and winter clothes, and sending them to these family members whom they had never met. And Darlene heard from Lizzie what a difference that made in the life of her family.


Many years after she retired, Lizzie died. Darlene attended Lizzie’s funeral in an African-American church. Darlene wept because she had lost a dear friend.


The good news in the Easter story for us is that our friend Jesus is still with us. He trusts us, loves us, and is the abiding presence we can count on in our lives. He gives us the bond that Lizzie and Darlene shared. He no longer calls us servants, but friends.



10 thoughts on “No Longer Servants, but Friends”

  1. Paul, this is such a beautiful story! I clearly saw Jesus in it. What a blessed relationship.

  2. What a wonderful story, Paul. Growing up in Jackson made it even better. 🙂 Thank you!

  3. Every story you write, Paul, strikes a chord. I really enjoyed getting to know Lizzie and Darlene through your eyes and words. Happy Mother’s Day to all!

    1. Hi Laurel! Glad the story of Lizzie and Darlene resonated with you. Hope you had a great Mother’s Day!

  4. There are many layers in the seemingly simple story. It would be wonderful to know more about Darlene’s impressions of Mississippi in the 1960’s. Talk about culture shock!

    1. Hi Nancy, glad you saw different layers of meaning in the story of Lizzie and Darlene. And yes, no doubt there was culture shock for Darlene and her family! Blessings, Paul

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