Updated: Jan 30
Everyone has heard of “customer service.” As customers, we expect to be served. Businesses depend on customers, so they have to be concerned about “customer service.”
There are two basic ways companies serve their customers. The first way is to sell them a product – they serve the customer what the customer wants.
You go to a restaurant and order a meal, which is then brought to you … in a bag or on a plate. Dinner is served.
You go to a phone store and listen to a clerk tell you about all the different features of service their phones have. Then you buy one and the clerk sets up your phone so it works. A new customer leaves with a shiny new phone, and phone service.
You go to the mall store and find some piece of clothing you like, and you ask the clerk to let you try the clothing on. If it fits well and looks well, you buy the piece of clothing. Certain stores actually measure you and make tailored adjustments, to fit the customer’s needs.
Every business serves its customers by making sales.
Then there is the second way customers are served by companies: they respond to complaints.
“This steak is over-cooked.”
“My bag of food was short something.”
“I just got a $500 bill for my phone service and I want to know how that happened.”
“I need to return this piece of clothing because it makes me itchy when I wear it.”
Overall, the complainers far outnumber those who take the time to tell a company just how pleased they are with the product or service they received.
The failure of companies to provide as much attention to complaints, as they do when making a sale, makes customers complain about the difficulties they face filing complaints. Sometimes, trying to get a cable company to stop your service, due to poor customer service, does not solve the problems. It makes it worse.
That lack of attention makes people more prone to be geared up to complain, rather than always expecting to be pleasantly surprised by a company following up on a sale. No one expects a company’s customer service department to be calling them before they can find reason, asking them to think hard … “Are sure you cannot find any complaints?”
That kind of customer service does not exist, in part because we human beings love an outlet for expressing our opinions on anything and everything in the world that does not meet our personal expectations.
We are natural born complainers.
In the readings today, we see evidence of that human trait.
The children of Israel complain, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill the whole assembly with hunger.”
In the parable told by Jesus, we hear the first hired laborers complain, “These last worked only an hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
This theme of complaining has become a caricature of being Jewish. Jewish comedians joke about hearing their uncles complaining, “Your knee? My back!”
In reality, we are all crying out about something we complain about; but because no one wants to listen, we learn it is best to keep our complaints to ourselves. We suffer in silence.
For that reason, open a complaint department, then just sit back and watch the lines form.
“Finally! Someone is willing to listen.”
However, companies want to make our complaining as difficult as possible, so we will revert to silent suffering.
Eating the over-cooked steak is better than waiting an extra 30 minutes and making the cook mad.
Go without the fries you just paid for and split the fries you did get.
Pay the phone bill regardless of the hidden costs that were unexpected.
Give the piece of clothing to someone who is not allergic to the material.
Move on with your life. Realize stuff happens. Get over it.
This, in a way, is the message of Paul. He wrote to the Philippians from his Roman prison cell, as he was awaiting his eventual execution.
If anyone had reason to complain, it was Paul. Instead, he wrote (and I paraphrase), “I am hard pressed between my desire to depart and be with Christ , begging my jailers to go ahead and execute me; and my natural fight to survive, seeking to remain in the flesh so I can continue to be available for you.” The Philippians, like the Israelites Moses led, needed leadership they could tell their pains to, and know their complaints would be given careful consideration.
The Israelites were complaining about their possible deaths, from starvation. Moses was in the same position of need, but he was responsible for those who followed his lead.
Paul was seeing the beauty of death, but did not want to leave young Christians without a shoulder to cry their complaints upon.
The Israelites had Moses and Aaron, who listened like Paul. They heard reasonable complaints … the complaints everyone has. Those customer service reps were middlemen for the Big Boss upstairs, and the complaints were heard at the top.
We all need food to live, otherwise we die. The Israelites complained about basic needs not being met. They feared the worst, probably still far from starvation. We all need someone to care about our pains and suffering, someone who keeps checking in on us to make sure we are okay. Like the figurative babies they were, they cried at the first twinge of hunger, because that was all they knew to do, in order to get what they needed. Knowing someone is paying attention means we can endure silently, without worrying others needlessly.
In the parable told by Jesus, the complaints by the laborers were not about needs being met. The first hired laborers had agreed with the landowner about their wages. After each had been paid that wage, their complaint was not about not getting what they bargained for; but, instead it was about not receiving preferential treatment. The first hired suddenly desired more than they bought in for.
God is “right to work,” not “closed shop.” So Pharisees had no labor agreement that favored seniority.
In all of these examples of complaints and potential complaints, the “company” has to be seen as God. God runs a company the way one should be run. God’s “customer service department” listens to complaints and responds correctly and in a timely manner. It cares … something human business struggles with.
To the children of Israel, they were right to complain about a lack of food. Food is a need. They were given meat in the evening (via quails) and bread in the morning (via manna). Service with a smile.
Their needs were met because they had followed Moses and Aaron into a wilderness through faith in the LORD. Only the LORD could meet their needs in such a hostile environment; and as such, they needed to experience a miracle to have their faith increased. They had to cry first, in order to feel the impact of receiving their nourishment.
Paul was meeting that same need in the faith of the Philippians. He was providing them with “customer service,” telling them that it can seem like everything would be better off, if only you could die and go to Heaven. But, your faith is needed here, in the flesh, as a model of faith, so the faith of others can be elevated.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of Jesus telling how the landowner (God) told the complaining laborers (the Pharisees of the Temple), “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The “last” who “will be first” are those of true faith, the followers of Christ, the new laborers for a new covenant. Those of true faith will be “first” in line to the kingdom of heaven.
The “heavenly kingdom company” of God is all about selling a good product and following up on that sale, making sure everyone is happy with that product.
The “first” who “will be last” are those of little faith, those who do lip service for the LORD. The Israelites were the first, as those who agreed to the Covenant presented by Moses, who then lost everything from negligence. They had come back from exile in hopes God would forgive them one more time. The representatives of the “first” were then the Pharisees and Temple priests. The first hired laborers agreed to a wage (the Covenant), but then they did so little work that the landowner had to keep hiring more and more workers. The “first” result was nothing being done, more than them just hanging around until quitting time, expecting to be paid for their “customer no-service.” They had no true faith, so they would be “last” in line to the kingdom of God.
The same model applies today, just as well as it did in the past. If you have faith in God, your complaints about needs will be heard and promptly dealt with. You might not get what you want, but you will at least get a flash of understanding about what you do have, so you can see that is worth more than you thought.
If you are saying you have faith, while doing little more than signing up for the “reward points,” then don’t be surprised if your efforts to redeem them in the earthly plane finds little acceptance. If you complain about not getting extras and perks, then you may find it is like calling out to God and reaching his “toll free number,” with a computerized voice command program that constantly says, “I’m sorry. I did not understand that. Let’s try again. Say or enter your complaint.”
It is always easier to build yourself a “Good Christian Booth” to sit in. Relaxing and wiling away the time, rather than doing the actual work of a true good Christian. You sign is all that gives the impression that you are as you advertise. Avoiding the scorching heat of the day in a relatively comfortable place, while making plans to go to Heaven when you die, is not part of the wages you agreed to. Sure, you said you would work for Heaven, so you were hired to fill the position of priest; but how come God had to keep finding other laborers to actually complete the harvest?
It was because you failed to do the work you promised.
If people were to mistake your booth as a “Complaints Department Counter,” coming to you so their faith in God could be revived, do not be surprised. Good Christians are known to seek customer satisfaction, advertising, “We Listen.”
The problem comes when other Christians find you non-responsive or unavailable, because you do not know how to help people. You get exposed for what you truly are, and what company you really work for, which isn’t one devoted to God or Christ.
If you are not living in the flesh, instead living as one “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, in no way intimidated by your opponents,” then you are an encouragement for “salvation,” not “destruction.” You provide customer service as a priest, a minister, a pastor, a good shepherd.
Good Christian Customer Service helps save souls, which is a need.
God has “graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” By believing in Christ, you welcome the complaints of fellow Christians and you help soothe their pains by demonstrating the strength that faith brings.
Being “first” is not all it is cracked up to be; but being “last” is not as bad as it seems.
You just need to choose which position you want to be in … wisely.
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