|“Christ at Rest”
Hans Holbein the Younger, 1519
Berlin State Museums
Scripture Passage: Philippians 2: 5-11
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.
We are accustomed to hearing Jesus described as a servant, even a suffering servant. But, to be honest, we sort of cringe. We don’t like the words “servant” or “slave”. They uncomfortably remind us of that horrible centuries-long blotch on our nation’s [not so]-otherwise pristine history. And the idea of our being asked to follow Jesus down that road is probably even more uncomfortable. It goes against our nature. We like to be in control. In fact, we pride ourselves on being in control of our lives. And now we are told that taking on the form of a slave is the way that one is exalted. This just doesn’t make sense. Surrendering is not the way you win or get ahead, is it?
This passage depicts “being in the form of God” as opposite from “being in the form of a slave”. Essentially, Jesus emptied himself and became dependent upon God, fully surrendered, a servant of God. He became fully human by surrendering himself to the Divine. He surrendered self-advancement and instead became fully human, fully made in God’s image, became what he was called to be by God. He surrendered himself and descended all the way to Golgotha. But Jesus was not a victim. He surrendered himself. That is the difference between this blotch that we think of when we hear the word slavery and the notion of Jesus (and us) being called to become a servant. God does not force or coerce us into slavery. God does not take away our control, take away our choices, take away our ability to walk freely wherever we desire to go. God doesn’t even, to be honest, tell us how we are supposed to believe or how we are supposed to understand God. The Divine does not do that. In fact, true humans do not do that. That is done by us when we allow ourselves to become and act less than human, inhumane, when we become less than who God calls us to be.
So Jesus, with all knowledge of what it entailed, with every molecule of his being, freely and deliberately chose to surrender, chose to forego those things that trap us humans, that convince us that we’re something different than we are, that, at their worst, compel us to be less than human. And in choosing to relinquish control to God, Jesus was exalted. And we are called to do the same. We are created in the image of God. But an image is not “like God”. (We are not now nor will we ever be “godly”.) An image of a thing is not the thing. But a good image reminds us of the thing itself. Jesus as fully human surrendered his life so that others might see God.
So, then, how does that help us? How can we relinquish control to God and still stand firm in our belief, still be persistent in our faith, still be strong in our passion for peace and justice for all? Shhhh! Just let go. God is calling you to do all those things. But they’re not about you; they’re about God. God does not need us to work for God. God is perfectly capable of it all. But God’s greatest desire is that we choose to follow, choose to become the people of God, choose to be with God in every step of our journey. God’s desire is that we freely choose to follow the Way of Christ. It probably has a lot more to do with attentiveness than anything else. To whom do you pay attention?
So, on this thirty-third day of Lenten observance, be attentive. whom do you pay attention? Who do you follow? What in your life is more important than being with God? Then let it go…the time is almost here.
Grace and Peace,