"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus"
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Thursday, March 25th: Deuteronomy 16:1-8; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; and Philippians 2:1-11. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Jesus dies on the cross in complete faithfulness to His gospel. Jesus’ entire life is the proclamation of uncompromising love. Jesus reveals a God who is defined by love (1 John 4:16), and Jesus commands us to imitate that love (John 13:34).
Philippians 2 is a much-referenced and reverenced early Christian hymn to Jesus’ humble Incarnation as one of us. Those first believers were duly impressed by the fact that Jesus emptied Himself of His divinity in order to take the form of a slave, one wholly devoted to the service of others, namely us.
The Greek verb is κενόω (kenóō) and becomes the basis of the term in Christian theology – kenosis. This theology gets a lot of theologians nervous. If it were not an indisputable biblical reference, it would be rejected as insufficiently Christian. It cannot be rejected, however, because Philippians is one of the seven authentic Pauline letters, and furthermore, it is found in Paul’s quotation of an even earlier, pristine Christian hymn.
The first-generation believers were impressed and excited by the observable fact of Jesus’ ordinary humanity, His obvious connection with us, that was combined with the faith-based realization of His extraordinary divinity. To be faithful to both natures those earliest believers proclaimed in their worship that Jesus had freely emptied Himself of His divinity so that He could be one of us.
This is a profound expression of who Jesus of Nazareth is as the Christ, Lord, Son of God. These were people who may have witnessed the life of Jesus of Nazareth directly or possibly through the stories of an eyewitness. Jesus as us was indisputable for them. They had seen Jesus and His human nature was unquestioned, even to the point that Jesus was “obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
Then something extraordinary happened that forced them to think in exciting, new ways. Miracles had been performed by holy people in the biblical tradition prior to Jesus and would continue to be performed in the biblical accounts after Jesus, but Jesus was different. The extraordinary event was the resurrection. The evidence of the empty tomb and the mystery of the post-resurrection encounters compelled those first-generation believers to reevaluate the nature of Jesus. He was more than holy. Jesus was of God: “… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Κύριος, Kurios).” In order to make sense of Jesus’ full humanity in the light of the resurrection revelation of His full divinity, the first Christians sang joyously of kenosis.
Paul and the readers at Philippi would have shared in the tradition of this early Christian hymn, but the apostle adds an important introduction. Paul will not let the Philippians only marvel at the nature of Jesus. He insists that as followers of Jesus we must seek to be like Jesus. Jesus emptied Himself to be as one of us so that we could fulfill ourselves as being like Jesus.
Accordingly, Paul writes: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” We approach Christ and our nature as Christians by looking not to our own interests, but to those of others. We seek to serve rather than to exploit. In this way, we honour and praise Jesus, and we fulfill our calling as Christians.
We live in a violent society that we have chosen to tolerate. We refuse to enact sensible gun legislation because we think people are responsible enough to own high capacity, semi-automatic murder weapons and obviously people are not. Jesus emptied Himself to show us a better way. He went to the cross to show us that the way is not through violence or revenge. And He calls us to imitate His example. I often hear that this is a Christian country. Let’s prove it be living in imitation of our loving, crucified Lord.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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