10-01-2017 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 2, 2017
26th Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Many years ago when I was a third year theology student, I remember reading and studying St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians—and, in particular, the very passage we read today, our second reading, from the 2nd chapter of St. Paul’s letter, sometimes called the "Philippians Hymn." When the meaning of this passage hit me, I felt as if my life had changed—and my spirituality as well.
So, I don’t want this passage to slip by without notice—hopefully inspiring you as it did me to take on the "attitude of Christ" and to live as he did.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written sometime in the early 50’s of the first century. Perhaps 20 years after Jesus died and rose. In fact, it is said that St. Paul adapted a pre-existing Christian hymn—already in the community—making this passage even older, perhaps from the 40’s or even the 30’s.
It is not an exaggeration to say that if all Christian literature somehow disappeared, and we were left with only this passage, we would still have a very good summary of the Christian Gospel. So what does Paul say . . .
It begins: "Jesus Christ . . . though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped." The first thing the earliest Christians said about Jesus: he is divine. All through the centuries, many theologians and teachers and heretics have said that the divinity of Jesus is a myth, an invention of the church, a make-believe story. But here, a decade or so after the Resurrection, Jesus is already professed as divine—Jesus possessed the form of God (one in being with God—consubstantial).
So, what about this divine person? "Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped." Something to cling to. Something to hold on to. The one who actually had a claim to divinity—chooses to let go!
And aren’t we just the opposite? Isn’t our tendency to grasp—to grasp at divinity, to be in control, to be in charge, TO MAKE OURSELVES GOD! To decide right and wrong. To be the center of the universe. (Wasn’t this the temptation in the Garden of Eden?)
But what does Jesus do—the one who has a claim to divinity? "Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave." Even as we cling to things, Jesus lets go. Even as we want to fill up, Jesus is emptying. THIS IS THE VERY HEART OF CHRISTIANITY.
The "emptying" of Jesus is called kenosis in Greek. The true God emptied himself to the point of becoming a slave. The Philippians knew what slavery was—and Jesus means it literally here. He came to serve, unconditionally, without payment or reward or word of thanks. A slave, because the very nature of God is to serve. Kenosis. To empty.
Our human tendency is to fill the voids in our lives—with money or honor or power or pleasure. But for God . . . "he humbled himself, taking the form of a slave—coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance." The Incarnation.
Another heresy in our long Christian history was Docetism, which means that Christ was not fully human—he only looked like us. But St. Paul affirms the humanity of Jesus "to the point of death, even death on a cross." Jesus took on our humanity all the way to the bottom . . . to death itself—so that, at the same time, he could raise all of sinful humanity to the very glory of God. "God greatly exalted him," and all creation with him.
To understand the Philippians Hymn is to understand the very heart of Christianity—and the love that God has for us. May we imitate that love, serving our brothers and sisters.