First Reading (Is 50: 4-7):
The Servant of God
“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.” (Phil 2: 6-8)
The liturgy for Palm Sunday can sometimes leave us confused. The theme
for this Sunday is about glory and at the same time also about humiliation.
On the one hand we recall Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, receiving
the welcoming, enthusiastic shouts of the crowds. On the other hand,
even as the cries of Hosanna have yet to die away, as we listen to the
Gospel reading of the Passion we are made aware of the continuing furtive
murmur of curses.
In the Epistle to the Philippians we can see the three-faceted countenance of Christ. Let us meditate carefully on it today and at the same time reflect on our own attitude of faith.
1) CHRIST IS GOD. He is divine, that is, he is God. Yet he did not hold on to this. He should have received reverence, by right he was entitled to our worship. But through the Incarnation he became human and condescended, abandoning the rights which were his.
In this age when democracy, human rights and freedom are emphasized, the most important lesson we have been taught is 'holding on.' We must hold on to our own rights, we must hold on to anything we think is owed us. These are all correct. Yet we all know that sometimes for a higher ideal or for the demands of deep faith, we must let go our rights for a higher right, let go of freedom for a higher freedom. In some actions done for love of others, or for church or country, freedom, equality and rights are not necessarily the most important concepts. They cannot be our only guiding principle.
In our Christian vocabulary, besides words like freedom, human rights, equality, etc, there should also be words that express ideals like offering, sacrifice, commitment, tolerance, sympathy, joy in suffering, etc.
2) CHRIST EMPTIED HIMSELF. That is, he subjugated himself, avoided the glory due him as king and put aside the radiance of his divinity. He allowed himself to be inconspicuous and totally alone, until what remained was only his enormous merciful and compassionate love.
Not only that, he took the emptying of himself to the extreme. “He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That is to say, not just to death but to the death of a slave, a death of humiliation and insult. We might say then that Christ, the innocent one, in his death on the cross was 'more trivial than a feather,' without the least significance, to the point that we cannot find appropriate words to express it.
But just as he emptied himself totally, so he was fulfilled totally; just as he died, he became fully himself; as he stripped himself of everything, he gained all. “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. (Phil 2: 9 –11).
When a woman becomes an adult and puts aside her youth, she might then become a mother. When a grown man puts aside prejudices and enters into the very life and heart of the other, he might become intimate friends of the other.
For Zhuang Zi, listening was an art. One should not just “comprehend with your heart, but listen with your vital energy.” The vital energy he talked about is “an emptiness that is alert and waiting to respond to all things.”(1) This means emptying oneself completely so that every word the other person says and everything about that person can enter into one's heart.
When Christ emptied himself, his emptiness was even more thorough than the “emptiness that is alert and waiting to respond to all things” advocated by Zhuang Zi. That was why God's love could fill him up. All life was embodied within him, and his love filled up all of humankind.
3) HE TOOK ON THE FORM OF A SLAVE, BECAME A HUMAN BEING, WAS BORN IN HUMAN LIKENESS, ENTIRELY LIKE THE REST OF THE HUMAN RACE. That is to say, Christ willingly took on our human nature. He was born a human person, could be affected by the trials that accompany aging, sickness, death, influenced by failure and loss, difficulties and afflictions. He considered it an honour and joy to be a human being.
Conversely, many of us do not wish to be human, we want to be gods. We don't want to walk step by step the road all humans must take, we want to 'sail the clouds and ride the mist' as immortals do, as the song about flying on the wings of the eagle says. We want to fly to the shores of eternity and avoid the pain of being human.
I recall Xu Zhi Mo's lines: “I don't want to be a fairy. Fairyland is not for me. I just want to be down on the earth. I'd rather be a human being.”(2)
Who do you say is closer to Christ- Xu Zhi Mo or those who dream of being god every day?