Tag Archives: Philippians 2

Complain or empty myself

DSC02907This morning, the feast of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, I prayed the readings for the feast of the Holy Cross, thinking these would be the readings for Mass today. I’ll be going to the 4 pm Mass in Bañaderos and will probably preach there on the readings in the booklet we use. But here are some thoughts on Numbers 21: 4-9, Philippians 2: 6-11, and John 3: 13-17 – readings that touch me deeply.

It’s so easy to complain. Something’s wrong and we are frustrated. So we complain. What does that do? Does it help resolve the problem? Or does it isolate us in our complaining?

Sure, there is a lot to complain about – the cold or a cold, racism or repression, poverty or poor roads.

But if we just complain, isn’t that like a snake bite, that poisons our bodies and our souls?

But what is the response of Jesus?

He empties himself, in the face of suffering and pain. He identifies with our suffering and with the suffering of the least among us. He does not pull back, holding on to his position as God. No, he becomes one of us, feeling our pain.

But even more he gives himself over in love.

Feeling pain for Jesus meant healing, touching the outcast, going where those in power dare not go. Even to death, where love leads him.

God so loves us that He comes among us, suffers with us, dies with and for us.

And what are we called to do?

Love, give ourselves, empty ourselves of all that keeps us from loving God and the least among us.

Lord, empty me, fill me with love, send me out to give myself for others.

 

God and the naked Indian

Three Franciscan sisters helped me on Friday and Saturday to do some formation for leaders of our youth groups and communities in the parish.

I had asked Sister Nancy to provide some different prayer experiences for the young people. One she led was an imaginative approach to our understanding of God. She began inviting us to visualize how God might be seen in a tree.

I almost immediately thought of a tree in my neighbor’s year, a tree that I can see clearly from my terrace. It is called “el indio desnudo,” “the naked Indian.’

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The bark often peels away and reveals several beautiful colors.

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Also, at various times during the year the leaves are touched with red or yellow tints.

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It is a beautiful tree – especially at some hours in the morning when the rising sun shines through the leaves and highlights the bark.

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But, reflecting afterword in a small group, I recognized that God, the naked Indian, is deeply engrained in my spirituality.

God comes among us as a poor man. He emptied himself and revealed himself in the simple. He is the God who became vulnerable. He becomes the naked Indian.

There is also a further sense that the glory of Jesus is revealed when the bark is stripped away, revealing the glory beneath.

A second part of the meditation was to consider what tree I am. I identified immediately with “el indio desnudo,” but a smaller tree than God. As I reflected later I recalled the call to become vulnerable, to let myself be stripped of pretensions and more.

This all brings me back to a passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-8) that shapes my life:

Have the same sentiment and wisdom as Jesus, the Messiah:
being in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God a something to be clung to;
but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave;
being found in the likeness of humans,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death,
even death on a cross.

The self-emptying God has become a naked Indian with all that means, because in many parts of Central America the native people are despised and the term “Indio” is used to express disdain.

Jesus comes among us as the despised naked Indian – and call us to be like Him.

As I finished writing this reflection I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton from his essay, “A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra Concerning Giants,” in  Emblems of a Season of Fury:

The tourist never meets anyone, never encounters anyone, never finds the brother in the stranger. This is his tragedy, . . .
So the tourist drinks tequila, and thinks it is no good, and waits for the fiesta he has been told to wait for. How should he realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesus.

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Emptying

Today is Good Friday, recalling and celebrating the death of our Lord Jesus. Today we are also nine months before Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus. If it were not Good Friday, we would be celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation.

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There was among some early Christians the belief that the annunciation and the crucifixion shared the same date.

But there are deeper connections between these two events, these two feasts.

Both teach us that our God is not a God who lords it over us. Our God became flesh and handed himself over even to the point of death.

This is, for me, the point of Philippians 2: 6-7:

[Christ Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (μορφὴν δούλου), coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

But there is another connection, one that causes me to ask what I am called to be and to do.

Mary responded to the angel Gabriel, “Behold the slave (δούλη) of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”

On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Both Mary and Jesus handed themselves over to the plans of God, leaving aside their own plans.

Our God is a God who empties Himself, who becomes a slave.

Where do I need to be emptied so that God may come and rise within me?

That is my question for Good Friday this year.

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Photo is of the El Señor de Intibucá.

Feeling and thinking like Christ

The second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of my favorite passages from the letters of Paul.

I was first moved by the central part of the chapter, verses 6 to 11, possibly an early hymn that celebrates the emptying of Christ Jesus. I particularly love the chant rendition used on Holy Thursday.


But reading the whole chapter presents us with a profound challenge. In verse 5 Paul challenges us to think and feel as Christ Jesus did.

Paul wants us to be a people who live as Christ did.

What particularly struck me this morning were verses 3 and 4, in The Christian Community Bible translation:

…let each one of you gently consider the other
as more important than yourselves.
Do not seek your own interest,
but rather that of others.

Gently – or humbly – consider the other as more important than me?

You mean that the world does not revolve around me?

That others are more important than me alone?

I think Paul is saying this because that’s the way we find our true joy – in having “one love, one spirit, one feeling.”

It’s not about me; it’s about us in Christ.

It is not about my desires in themselves; it’s about how my desires go beyond me, joining me to Christ and to others.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about myself. It’s a reminder that I am not alone; I am part of the Body of Christ and find my fullest join in union with God and others.

In this way God can fill us with love, joy, and grace – and we can become fulfilled persons, God’s holy people.