Sunday, April 2, 2017

On the Obedient, Humble Love of Jesus

Philippians 2: 4-8 (NRSV): Obedient, Humble Love
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Being a follower of Christ in today’s world is no easy task. And if it were not for God’s grace we would all be lost, trying to earn our own salvation in a world of immediacy and instant results. Paul, however, in his joy-filled letter to the church at Philippi, provides a formula of love and humility for Christ’s followers and answers the all-important question: How can we be more like Jesus in this world?
Jesus Christ did “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility [he regarded] others as better than [himself]” (2:3). The gospels are peppered with examples of Christ’s putting others first: We see a beautiful example of Christ’s humility in John 13:4-17. Here Jesus takes on the lowest job given to slaves, washing the feet of others. When his disciples question this humble action, Jesus answers, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Being like Jesus means prioritizing the needs of others. Paul says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (2:4). It is too easy for us to “look out for number one” in this competitive world, sacrificing the needs of others for our own wants. Jesus, in his life on earth, lived for the sake of others, for everything he did exemplified his love for us.
Being like Christ also includes an attitude adjustment. Paul, moreover, reminds us that we, too, are to have “the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). This means that Christ, although he had God’s nature, did not equate his earthly life with that of God (2:6). Instead, Jesus chose to live in poverty, taking on “the form of a slave,” a struggling human being who experienced both emotional and physical pain (2:7). Jesus chose to be born in a cold cave among animals, and he chose the course hay of a feeding trough as his crib (Luke 2:7). Jesus, as is discussed in more detail below, obediently chose the cross. Jesus, too, experienced deep emotional sadness at the death of his close friend Lazarus of Bethany, for the sacred writer states that upon witnessing the sadness of Lazarus’ death, ”[Jesus] was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. . . and Jesus began to weep” (John 11:33, 36).
Finally, Paul reminds us of Christ’s ultimate work of humility and love -- his sacred flesh offered on the cross for all: “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (2:8). Jesus willingly gave up his human life, and that we know he was all human and all God proves Christ’s Passion was an excruciating human experience. On the cross Jesus felt extreme physical pain as his hands and feet were pinioned with iron nails. Historically accurate accounts of crucifixion point to the crucified dying of asphyxiation as they struggled to push themselves up by pierced feet to catch a short breath only to fall again into a position that did not allow for inhalation. Eventually, physical weakness (or Roman guards breaking the legs of the criminals) would restrict this movement and the crucified would slowly die of suffocation. Jesus felt emotional pain and abandonment on the cross, too. His last words suggest this emotional struggle as he recited Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (1).
Jesus’ obedience and humility are insurmountable, so how can we ever compare? If our goal is to be more like Christ, how can we when his example is perfect? These are fair questions to consider. Our lives, though, are not in competition with the Incarnation of God. Jesus’ example, instead, is a living reminder, a call, to be ambassadors of his love in this world. When we look at Paul’s beautiful hymn to Christ, we reflect on the areas of our lives that need tweaking, the areas that need to embody more love toward others and less judgment, more giving and less taking. Jesus’ perfect example of love, obedience, and humility points us toward conversion. And if we are sincere, asking God to come into our lives, we, too, can effect positive change in our world by loving each person we meet in some small way, even if it is only in the form of a simple smile. For St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
I pray that our “simple smiles” be the genesis of Christ’s love reflected in our world and that each person we meet is changed by the light of Christ in each of us. Amen.
Have a blessed week.