September 25, 2011, 15th Sunday after Pentecost

SEPTEMBER 25, 2011
MATTHEW 21:23-32

Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of my most favorite passages of scripture. It is not a favorite because it is pleasant, but because it describes the very depths of the Gospel. It is so full that there seems to be no end to reflecting upon it and it’s implications for our lives.

At the core of the passage is what is considered by some scholars to be an ancient hymn of the church that Paul was probably quoting to make a point. The hymn is a depiction of the Son of God: Who took on human form, humbled himself, emptied himself, became a slave. He became obedient even unto death. He did not exploit, utilize or grasp his equality with God.

Our Gospel story illustrates this depiction of Jesus. Jesus was confronted with the question, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?” In other words, “did God send you to teach and heal? Why should we listen to you?”

But Jesus turns the questions around. It is not a question of him claiming authority nor that John the Baptist claimed authority. It is a question of “Do YOU RECOGNIZE John’s authority? Do YOU RECOGNIZE my authority?”

Jesus didn’t claim his divine origin, he didn’t grasp it, he didn’t exploit it. He didn’t take it and wack people over the head with it. Jesus humbly waited for people to recognize who he was, to recognize his authority in their lives, to get up and follow him.

He did not force the tax-collectors and prostitutes to follow him. They chose to follow him. What would the chief priest and elders choose? What will we choose?

This is the Jesus described in the hymn. He does not push himself on anyone. Rather, he allows himself to be pushed to the point of suffering and death. Yet in the end he will be recognized for who he is. He will be given the name above every name. Every tongue will confess him as Lord.

I am really drawn to this passage because it give me an image of not only what Jesus Christ has done for me, but also about how he approaches me. He comes to me as my servant. It blows me away that the Creator of the universe would come to me that way.

My wife and I have a friend in Turkey, who is a devote Muslim. Sumer has a lot of respect for us as people of faith. Our spiritual lives have much in common. But when we touch on this depiction of Jesus as the humble Son of God, he reacts, “GOD HAS NO SON!” He also cannot see God as humble. Rather, God is to be obeyed!

We Christians can struggle as well with this depiction of the Son of God. Some may see the incarnation as a passing phase before he becomes ruler of all. Some may so reject the image of God as Ruler of All that they cannot accept Jesus as anything other than a humble man. Some may find themselves in the middle, constantly fumbling with the implications of the paradox that God in Jesus Christ is both ruler and humble servant.

Paul’s purpose in giving this description of Jesus is that our worship of him would lead us to seek to emulate him. He calls upon us to have the same mind that Jesus had: setting aside selfish-ambition and conceit, viewing others as more important than ourselves, looking out for others before we look out for ourselves.

This depiction of Jesus tugs at me. It is like he is tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Go and do likewise. Have the same mind. Be humble. Don’t be impressed with your own prowess. Seek to be a servant of others, not there master. Don’t grab after positions of power over others. Do all this even if it means you will suffer and maybe even die.

It is much easier to use this passage to critique how others are behaving. There are bishops and bosses and politicians that are so enamored with there positions of power that they don’t bother to ask the question, do their people WANT to follow them?

There are spouses and parents and acquaintances that like bossing us around or filling the air with their precious ideas and never bother to ask: do people think my ideas are good? do they value what I have to say?

It is much harder to take a good look at ourselves and ponder, how we may step on other people’s toes, how we may be impressed with our importance in our family, in our work, or in the church.

Having the same mind as Christ is not easy. Even heading my life in this general direction is impossible for me without the inspiration and strength Christ’s mind gives to me. If I could not hold onto this image of Jesus, I would not be able to hold up to the challenge of what he is asking me to do.

It is the image of this humble God that makes it possible for us to have humility. As we hold this image of God up over and over again, it can transform how we thing about how things should be done, how we should act. Then we shall be on the road to having the same mind, not because he has forced us, but because we have chosen to follow him.