Reflections on the Readings
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion - April 1, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins
No Greater Love
Christ, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8
In the Creed we profess that 'for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.' These words capture for us the height and breadth and the length and depth of God's love for us. They are words deeply rooted in the words of St. Paul we have before us. Writing from jail Paul echoes the words of a hymn to Christ from the early Church. Paul's reflection is the expression of the faith grown in the meditation of the Church on God's love for the world.
'In the form of God' means consubstantial with the Father. This is not something Christ struggled to be, reaching out for it and finally subjugating it to himself. He did not lay claim to deity so as to accrue to himself the honors and dignity of his place and position by fiat. We do not have human words to completely plumb the depths of that perfect love between the Father and the Son. However, in simple eloquence Jesus explains, "I and the Father are one." The Jews then took up stones again to stone him. Jesus asked them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me? The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God." (John 10:30-33) Unlike Adam and Eve who reached for the forbidden fruit to be like God, Jesus is God.
And then doing what only perfect love can do, Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, born in the likeness of men. Our humanity is what Christ took to himself. In doing so he took what he is not into who he really is to become what we are so that we could become what we are not. In an abasement that defies human logic, Christ came into our world not to be served but to serve. Jesus calls us to this greater love saying, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 22:25-28)
Jesus came to us in the likeness of you and me. He encountered the weakness of humanity, experiencing tiredness, hunger, thirst, the need for clothing and a place to lay his head. He endured pain and betrayal, mockery and ridicule, suspicion and humiliation. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The King of Heaven, veiled as a creature, treated as a common criminal, led as a sheep to the slaughter, opened not his mouth. He could have called ten thousand angels, yet he emptied himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. The Mother of God stood beneath her Son's cross and the beloved disciple John stood with her, both gazing in utter dismay into the paled eyes that still said, "I love you." Only a few days before he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey among throngs of people declaring, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed his he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" But now we see him on this lonely hill of Golgotha, that is, in Christ God reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us - God making him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (see 2 Corinthians 5:19-21)
Every parent tries really hard to teach their children early on the virtue of sharing and the value others who are different than us in color or talent or station in life. Most mom's and dad's will tell you that it takes consistent and persistent effort to build these ideas in a child's mind. Yet it seems early on we embrace the small world of turf guarding and staking out our claims and harboring a defensive take on stuff and things and each other. It pokes it's ugly head out from time to time even with us adults who sometimes act like little kids. It's not a pretty site. But those of us who have done our sharing of turf guarding think we are pretty cool. But it's not really cool, is it? Not really.
Having served a number of years pastoring I can tell you that I've seen turf guarding in the church. I know, it's hard to believe, isn't it? But it's true. Years ago I had the honor of pastoring the Pentecostal church I grew up in. What a privilege it was to be pastor of my home church; the very church founded by my great-grandfather. Then new people began coming in. They were a little different than the folks who had been there a lifetime. These new people were a little more refined and quite alive in their faith and walk with the Lord. But we get stuck sometimes, don't we? The turf guarding began. Suspicious talk abounded. Many were afraid that these new people would take their church from them. Silly, isn't it? But three months later I was voted out. My ouster sent a message that the new folks weren't welcome either.
In this Holy Week, may we seek to have the mind of Christ. So much of what we think is important is nothing more than rubbish. (Philippians 3:8) Let us embrace the newness that self denial brings, the largeness of a bigger world of others and their love and friendship. May we open up our hearts to this greater love, a love that says, "You are more important than me." That at the name of Jesus we may humble ourselves and bow down before him whom God has highly exalted - loving one another and him who loved us while we were yet sinners.
There is no greater love! Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com