Thursday, March 28, 2013

Walk this way, please

After wandering around in the Lenten wilderness for six+  weeks, we’ll soon be gathering in packed houses of worship with trumpets and choirs and lilies, proclaiming, “He is risen!” But not yet. We have one last stop along the way. We call it Good Friday, although there doesn’t seem to be much good in it until you can look back on it with resurrection eyes.

For many people, what makes the crucifixion good is knowing that Jesus died for their sins. And while that’s one way of making sense of Jesus’ death on the cross that has resonated with people of faith for a long time, it’s not the only way to make sense of it. And, to be honest, it's not a perspective that resonates a whole lot with me.

I prefer to consider the 
Jesus story through the lens of this passage from Philippians:
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
       6who, though he was in the form of God,
      did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
      And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself
      and became obedient to the point of death —
      even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
      every knee should bend,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
  (Philippians 2:5-11)

This past Sunday, we began our worship with a cheering crowd celebrating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and we ended it by recounting the story of a crowd shouting “Crucify him!” and his death on a cross. Talk about a downward spiral! That’s the Jesus we read about in the second chapter of Philippians. He was in the form of God but didn’t exploit that. Instead, he humbled himself by taking on the form of a slave.

That word humbled is a key to understanding who Jesus was and what he was about. Is being humiliated and humbling yourself the same thing? Although they both come from the word humus, which means dirt, there is a difference. To be humiliated is something that someone else imposes upon you. They treat you like dirt. But to humble yourself is to make yourself like dirt. When you’re humiliated, someone else has the power. But when you humble yourself, you are the one with the power. Jesus’ was not stripped of his power. He showed his power by emptying himself. It was his doing, it was his choice to take on the form of a slave.

 A slave, like the one who would get down on his hands and knees and wash his disciples’ dirty feet. A slave, like the one who would be nailed to a cross. Wealthy people were not executed on crosses. This was the form of execution reserved for slaves. In Jesus’ life and in his death, he didn’t just take on human form, but he identified with the lowest of the low. How often do we consider this when we look at the figure of Christ crucified?

 We tend to personalize this act, focusing on what Jesus has done for us on a cross. And we miss the fact that he identified with the outcasts and the untouchables. He became as a slave. His death on the cross was an act of solidarity with the lowest members of society. To have the mind of Christ, as this ancient hymn recorded in Philippians suggests, is to empty yourself and identify with the ones Jesus himself identified with in his life and in his death. It may be more comforting to focus on ourselves and the way that Jesus died for us. But there’s more to his death than that. It’s not all about us.

 Now, none of us needs to go to a cross the way that Jesus did; that’s not what these verses from Philippians are suggesting. What they are suggesting is that we have the mind of Christ. That we adopt a pattern for our lives that follows the pattern of Jesus’ life. It’s a way of life that is radically different than the life the dominant culture around us would have us live. We are more than the façade we present to others. We are more than our cars and our jobs. Our value is not measured by popularity or awards.

 In fact, everything we have learned in our culture about success is wrong. We can only become the people God created us to be by divesting ourselves of the world’s trappings so that we can stand naked before God without any of the stuff that stands between us. For, it’s only in emptying ourselves that we can be filled with God’s grace. This is a radical way of being in the world. It means thumbing your nose at the values of the world around us and living the Jesus way. That is, the way of the cross.

 Although it may bring us great comfort to look at the figure of Jesus dying on the cross with the assurance that he died to save us from our sins, that he died for each of us personally, there is so much more going on there.  The figure of Jesus dying on a cross is a living/dying demonstration of his central teaching: “If any would be my disciples, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For whoever gains their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will gain it.” The cross is Jesus' invitation to all who would follow him: “Walk this way, please!”


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