“ though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … he humbled himself.” Phil. 7-8
A German mystic many years ago said that the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. St. Paul couldn’t be more in agreement.
In his shocking letter to the Philippians that we just heard read to us, he agrees wholeheartedly. There he says it as boldly as it has ever been stated by anyone: “Though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself.”
Self-emptying is the keynote, the major theme of this entire week – the week we call “holy.” It’s the week that ties the whole story of Jesus together into one final disclosure: the God of Jesus is in total solidarity with all of humankind. From the birth of a special child in Bethlehem all the way to that same child being nailed to a cross, God has shown how much he identifies with everyone – not just the powerful and the mighty, not just with the ordinary, everyday person, but even with the poorest of the poor: “He took the form of a slave.”
This week also paints the picture of how you and I are to be. We, too, are asked to follow the lead of Jesus, not of the Roman emperor, not of the Pharisees, not of those who want more power and more money and more fame and more fortune, but of those who, like Jesus, are willing to empty themselves – empty themselves of their egos; empty themselves of their passion to dominate and to build a tower of power into the sky.
Look at how Jesus presents himself in today’s first gospel from Mark: though he was in the “form of God,” he rides on a donkey, an animal of humility. Subtraction. Though he was in the “form of God,” he sat not on a throne, but on the tattered cloaks of poor people. Subtraction.
Instead of addition, instead of a statement of triumph, his entry into Jerusalem speaks of servanthood and subtraction.
Watch this theme throughout the whole week.
Watch, too, where you fit into this story of betrayal and deception and abandonment and horrifying cruelty.
Where do you see you? Are you Peter who denies and lies? Are you Judas who wants addition not subtraction? Are you one of those who scatter when the powerful scare them? Are you one of the soldiers who just do what they’re told and ask no questions?
Or are you one of the women, the nobodies of that time, who alone stand loyally and courageously at the foot of the Cross?
“Though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself.”