As many of you know, I am a living historian. What that means is, I try to recreate, or reenact if you will, a certain period. To do this, I need to not only know historical events of the period but I need to understand the people that lived during that period. Understand how they thought, and what they thought about events of the day, help to fill out the character otherwise, it is just the spout off facts, and no one is interested in that.
I have often said that any real study of Scripture requires us to fully understand that was going on at the time that the passages we read were written. Who wrote the passage we are reading? Who was it written too? Who would read it? What was the socio-economic situation like for the people that would be hearing these words? How did they live? Historically what was going on at the time? You see, these words we read today were written by someone to someone about a very real situation in their lives and if we understand that situation and the people, we will better understand how that applies to our lives. What I am saying is we have to get inside their heads and see what is going on.
The Scripture reading we heard this morning comes to us from the letter that Paul wrote to the people of Philippi and in this letter he tells them, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” He then goes on to tell his readers what that means.
Paul speaks regarding a self-emptying, “although he was in the form of God he 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.” As Trinitarian Christians, we believe that the Father and the Son are one, but in this instance, Jesus took on our human form and became a slave or a servant to all.
He gave up his will for that of the Father’s. He took on a mindset of selflessness and a humble regard for others and their interests. There is not one instance in Scripture where Jesus puts his interests ahead of the people he has come to minister to. Paul tells us that Jesus did not exploit his equality with God, Jesus could have snapped his fingers and changed all of us, but he did not, and does not, do that. He emptied himself of all of that to minister to us as we are. For Jesus, and for us, to be faithful to God’s will, he had to empty himself of all that he wanted.
The summation of all of Paul’s teaching on the issue is found in this idea of self-emptying and becoming a servant in the service of all. In confessing Jesus as Lord in our lives, we subdue the authority of the Lords of privilege and violence, and we take on a thirst for the reign of God and not the reign of man, in our lives. To be in the form of God, and to have the mind of Christ, is not to exploit one’s superpower but to manifest God’s free and dispossessing love toward all of humanity and all of creation.
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that the divine life is found in dispossession, a giving up of what we want and a radical care and concern for the other, but the Trinity does this is an eternal circle of unrestricted giving to the other. Each part of the Trinity is different, yet each part gives freely to the other for the sole benefit of the other.
If I had to choose one of the Apostles that I would call my favorite, it would have to be that Apostle John. John was the youngest of the Apostles and wrote the Gospel and the letters that bear his name. In the famous painting of the Last Supper, John is the one leaning against Jesus and has his head on his chest. The artist of this famous work, painted John in this position because the Gospels tell us that John was the Apostle that Jesus loved so to show him in this position emphasizes that. But that fascinating part of this is that in that position John was able to listen to Jesus heartbeat, or rather he was listening to the heartbeat of God! The heart is the very essence of our being; it is the very essence.
In a sense, Jesus is the heart of God and in him is revealed a willingness to empty himself in radical humility and a desire to be identified with the “least of these.” This is what it means to be of the mind of Christ, and we have to have this idea of a radical self-emptying, this radical idea of “not my will Lord, but your will” and a willingness to identify with those around us in their need.
To have the mind of Christ, to aim towards the goal of living a divine life, means we have to be willing to empty ourselves of our selfishness, our ego, our pride and make the decision to live our lives by the example that Jesus left for us, a life of radical otherness, or care for the “least of these” among us.
Today we celebrate Jesus entry into the City of Jerusalem. He comes riding on a donkey, a humble beast of burden that shows that he comes in extreme, radical humility as a peace giver and not a warrior. The people lined the street and laid palm branches and items of their clothing down in front of him to mark his path. The end of the journey was not praise or adoration but of death, his death, a death we went to willingly because it was not for himself that he was doing this but for all of humanity. He emptied himself and took on the form of a servant and was in the service of all.
As this coming week unfold, this holy week, meditate on what it means to have the mind of Christ, ponder how we can empty ourselves of ourselves and fill up that space with the very essence of God and the radical care for the other around us.