I thought to myself that I couldn’t leave the month of September without sharing with you my favorite bible passage from this month. And guess what, it’s a passage many of us are very familiar with but yet most times we miss the vital message from this passage. This favorite passage of mine is Philippians 2:1-11. So if you could read along with me… PS This will be long…
Here St. Paul starts out by admonishing the people of Philippi to imbibe some certain virtues in communion with one another, and for me, this forms the basis or background for what he is going to be telling us in the next 10 verses. What was St. Paul saying? That if there was any encouragement in Christ to be found amongst them, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection or sympathy, the faithful of Philippi should complete his Joy by being of the same mind, having the same love and being in full accord with one another. He advises them to shun selfishness or conceit, but that rather in humility they should ’count others as more important than yourselves’, looking out for other people’s interests and not their individual interests alone. (cf. Philippians 2:1-4). These may sound like mere virtues which are extrinsic or external and which the faithful of Philippi should acquire to, in a way, garnish their Christianity and make them look nice before other people, but St. Paul disagrees with this notion. For him, this mind which he want us to have is not extrinsic to our Christian heritage but indeed flows from it, because this mind was also in Christ Jesus. (cf. Philippians 2:5).
How was this mind in Christ Jesus? St. Paul tells us, ‘who though he was in the form (Gr. morphe) of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Gr. harpagmos) but emptied himself (Gr. Kenosis) taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.’ The Greek for ‘grasped’ here could also mean ‘exploited’ or ‘used to his own advantage’, as Pauline scholarship agrees, and so there we have it. It is clear therefore that the central theme of Paul’s message can be said to be ‘humility=divinity’. Most times we tend to think that God exercises his divinity by ‘superiority’ or by ‘Lording’ himself over us. We have the conception that He is God because He is creator. This is indeed a false conception. God is indeed eternal but He is not an ‘Eternal Creator’, Creation is by no means an intrinsic attribute of God, God was never compelled to create, either by something within himself or outside himself. There is however one thing God is eternally, and that is an ‘Eternal Father’. When we read 1 John 4:8 and learn that God IS Love, we realize that Love is indeed an intrinsic attribute of his being. His being goes concurrently and is indeed synonymous with his love. And so being an eternal Father, what he does eternally is to make his very being a gift of love, his very being an outpouring or an emptying (kenosis) of his life in love to another.
It is here that belief in the Trinity comes to mind, for God being the principle of existence and being love could see no other and know no other but his very self, this very self of his, as the venerable servant of God Fulton J. Sheen tells us, consists in his thought, for God to be an intelligent being, it means he thinks. He thinks a thought, and the same way thoughts such as ‘Justice’, ‘Charity’ and ‘Fortitude’ are thoughts born or ‘generated’ in the mind of man and yet they are so real to us, the same way we humans can invest our personalities in our thoughts that when the products of our thoughts are heard, our whole personalities are perceived, eg. ‘Shakespearean thought’, the same way too God the Father thinks a thought in his mind which is eternally generated or born and which in a more infinite way than man’s thoughts carries in itself the very personality and spirit of the Father. This thought is therefore both a Word like ‘Justice’, and ‘Charity’ but yet more infinitely, and also a ‘Son’ since He is eternally born in the Father’s mind, and so since God is perfect, this one thought of his is so perfect as He is and carries in Himself all the divine attributes of the Father such that He is as Perfect as the Father, God from God, True God from true God. And so this perfect image of the Father is the perfect object of Love of the Father, and so fruit of the father’s outpouring of life and love, he himself pours out his perfect life and love back to the father, and the fruit of this mutual outpouring of love is the Holy Spirit.
What happened on the cross therefore was not that God looked at his son and seeing our sins rendered unimaginable punishments on him but the Son doing for humanity what the Father has done for him for all eternity, emptying himself, and so the same way that emptying of self of the Father gave the Son life in the Godhead, the Son therefore goes ahead to empty himself for humanity to give human beings Life in the Godhead. As St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’. And where else do we see that the crucifixion of Christ was not an execution but a Sacrifice where Christ willingly gave himself, emptied himself that we may become Sons of God in Him than in the EUCHARIST where he said ‘Take, eat, this is my body…Take, drink, this is my blood of the new covenant that will be shed for you’ (cf. Luke 22:19-20. And so what God does by highly exalting him, giving him a name that is above every other name such that at this very name every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, is not a resuscitation and vindication of an innocently condemned man but a ratification of Jesus’ interpretation of what Divinity or Equality with God really means which is NOT COUNTING EQUALITY WITH GOD A THING TO BE GRASPED OR USED TO OUR OWN ADVANTAGE BUT HUMBLING OURSELVES AND TAKING THE FORM OF A SERVANT FOR OTHERS.
Dearest friends, for Paul this is the mind we should have if we have received the gift of redemption, this message is indeed timely for all of us, the fact that we have received the life of God does not mean that we should look down on others, does not mean that we should be consumed with some sort of ‘spiritual pride’, but rather it means that for us to maintain our divinity or equality with God, we should empty ourselves and make our own lives a gift of love for others, and so by so doing cooperate with Christ in making them sons and daughters of God in the one and only Son of God. Equality with God means that we should constantly count ourselves unworthy before the all holy God who without his grace we would have been but nothing. An example of this is seen in St. Paul himself, who in 1 Corinthians 1:15 considered himself ‘least of the apostles’, 10 years later in Ephesians 3:8 considered himself, ‘less than least of ALL the saints; not only of apostles and prophets, but even of all believers ´ and much later in 1Tim. 1:15 he referred to himself as ‘the Chief of Sinners’. It therefore seems that the more St. Paul grew in grace and fellowship with God, the more he realized his unworthiness and humbled himself before the all holy God. We read the gospels and hear Jesus say to us, ‘Whoever must be the greatest must be the servant’. ‘He who loves his life will lose it but he who loses his life for my sake will find it’, ‘The first shall be the last and the last shall be the first’, ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, It shall not bear fruit’, ‘He who humbles himself will be lifted up’ etc., and we think they are just Jesus the good teacher dishing out moral maxims, nay, these are the very secrets to becoming and maintaining Equality with God.
I thank my mentor and teacher Dr. Scott Hahn who continues to open up the Word of God and the truths of the Most Holy Catholic Faith to me.