Passion/Palm Sunday (Year A, 17 April 2011)

Jesus: emptied of ‘all but love’

Readings
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Matthew 21.1-11

 Last week, we sang that wonderful hymn, And can it be. Recall these amazing words from verse 3:

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Jesus ‘emptied himself of all but love’. As I’m saying these words, some of you will be hearing the tune in your heads.

Scholars think that the passage from Philippians we read today was originally a hymn, so the Philippians may have also heard the tune in their heads when Paul wrote these words:

Christ Jesus…emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

We have no idea of the tune today; it would sound like a kind of chant to our ears rather than a song. I’m sure it sounded nothing like the tune to And can it be, but the words certainly inspired Charles Wesley.

He left his Father’s throne above…
emptied himself of all but love…

That summarises the first half of Paul’s words very well indeed.

Paul isn’t trying to give us a stand-alone theological explication of the ‘being’ of Jesus. He has a very practical reason for speaking of the ‘self-emptying’ of Jesus. Let’s look at why Paul introduces this hymn. He says,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

So the ‘mind’ of Christ Jesus is a mind that has something to do with being emptied for others.

And Paul wants us to have the mind of Christ, to have a ‘Jesus way’ of thinking. What is that? For the answer, we only have to look at the first few verses of Philippians 2:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Paul says, in your life together as a family in Christ, is there any consolation from the love you share? Is there any compassion one for another? Then, he says, ‘make my joy complete’: ‘be of the same mind’, which is the mind of Jesus himself. It’s a humble mind, a mind that regards others as better than oneself, not competing with each other but serving one another in love. Empty yourself of pride; empty yourself of ‘all but love’.

Wow!!

This, Paul says, is being a Christian. It’s Discipleship 101. It’s following Jesus; it’s living our lives in his Spirit. It’s not for the special ones, the chosen few. The shape of Christian discipleship for you and for me is simply this: humbly regard others as better than me; do not compete but serve one another in love.

We are meant to draw from the life of Jesus so that we too begin to empty ourselves of all but love. We get it wrong, of course. We fall. But when we fall, we get up and get going again. It’s like a toddler learning to walk; she takes a few wobbly steps, falls on her backside, gets up again with a grin and gives it another go.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

One of the great conversion experiences I’ve had was realising that when the New Testament says ‘you’, it’s plural. It’s ‘yous’, not ‘you’.

Let the same mind be in yous that was in Christ Jesus…

Or,

Let the same mind be among you that was in Christ Jesus…

The mind that was in Christ Jesus is a mind that is expressed through loving actions. It’s too big a mind for ‘me’ and ‘thee’ to have. It’s a mind that we share. We share the mind of Christ.

It’s not that I have it and you don’t. If I start thinking that, I stop sharing the mind of Christ because I cease to regard you as better than me; and I look to my own interests, not to yours.

We see this mind of Christ all throughout today’s readings.

Isaiah looks for the coming of a Suffering Servant, who

know(s) how to sustain
the weary with a word…

and who

listen(s) as those who are taught.

This Suffering Servant is a teacher, the best kind: a humble teacher who listens to God ‘morning by morning’, and whose days are oriented towards God.

But this humble teacher takes a step further: he says,

I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

He suffers, but for whose sake? For the sake of the weary ones. He submits to suffering, to insult and spitting, so that the weary can be saved.

But in all this horrific suffering, the Servant is not disgraced, he is not put to shame: God will vindicate him, and declare him right.

We go from there to the song of Philippians 2. Christ, who was ‘in the form of God’, also chooses the humble way. He ‘emptied himself of all but love’, and takes the form of a ‘slave’, the Suffering Servant.

And like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, Jesus takes a further step: he

became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

He suffers for our sake, so that we may be saved.

Today is Palm Sunday. We began with a festal feel, welcoming Jesus to the Holy City. We know that things will soon change, and the crowd will turn against him.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, he does so as a King who is also the Suffering Servant. He enters on a donkey, not a proud horse. Matthew’s Gospel quotes the Old Testament prophet Zechariah:

Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey…

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, this was the true King.

Again, like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, Jesus here takes the humble way. And like the Servant, Jesus takes a further downward step. He is soon to be delivered to his executioners.

We see these two steps in each of our readings today: walking the humble way, and being prepared to suffer for the sake of others.

This is not only what Jesus has done for us, but it shows us the nature of God. It is God’s very nature to give, to stoop, to love in ways that are shocking—for a god. We tend to think that God should be ‘above’ all this; we could only ever see this because of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God, the one who reveals the truth about God.

And let me remind you, this is also the true nature of Christian discipleship; it’s Discipleship 101. The mind of Christ is something we share. We are his disciples insofar as we give without hope of return, and stoop to serve others. This is being a Christian.

In case you think this is bad news because you fail, let me also remind you how far our God stoops for us. He goes to the cross, he hangs naked there for us, and says:

Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.

Father, forgive.

Let us also forgive, and have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, the humble mind that regards others as better than oneself, which doesn’t compete with others but serves the other in love. Let us have the mind that empties ourselves of pride; that empties ourselves of ‘all but love’.

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