Read the text below, preferably aloud. As you hear the word, “listen with the ear of your heart” for a word or short phrase that God has for you this day.
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.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This text from Philippians is one of the earliest Christian hymns known to have been used at worship. There is a vast amount of scholarly discussion as to the origin and structure of this hymn. Some suggest that Paul himself wrote the hymn while others note that perhaps Paul was using an existing, well-known hymn to connect with his hearers. After all, we often hear preachers today using lines from a hymn to illustrate a point during a sermon. Regardless of the exact origin of this text, one thing that scholars do agree on is that this text constitutes a hymn that was used in the earliest Christian worship.
As I read through this passage from Philippians, I am caught by the phrase “but [he] emptied himself.” It is a very simply statement, but one that leaves a lot of room for reflection. It becomes clear that Jesus chose to do this himself – he “emptied himself” – he renounced his place of privilege. After all, in the time of Jesus, humility was seen as a virtue to be practiced only by slaves, and as the hymn states earlier, Jesus indeed took the form of a slave.
I am struck by this radical emptying of Jesus. He willingly and freely renounced what was rightly his in order to be among us, identify with us, and minister to us. I find myself wondering “If Jesus freely and completely emptied himself, what am I called to do?” “What does this mean for me?” As Holy Week and Easter draw ever closer, I find myself looking at my failed lenten resolutions and asking those questions. While I may not have any answers right now, I do take comfort in the fact that, despite my own failings, Jesus did freely and radically empty himself for me. I know that I’m surrounded with a love that’s beyond my wildest imagining.
Chase M. Becker
© And Every Tongue Should Confess, Suzanne Moore, 2004. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.