Sunday, September 21, 2014

Do Nothing Out of Selfishness

I would like to focus on the second reading for this Sunday's mass. This is a famous passage from Philippians 2:
Brothers and sisters:If there is any encouragement in Christ,any solace in love,any participation in the Spirit,any compassion and mercy,complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,united in heart, thinking one thing.Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,each looking out not for his own interests,but also for those of others.
Have in you the same attitudethat is also in Christ Jesus,Who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with Godsomething to be grasped.Rather, he emptied himself,taking the form of a slave,coming in human likeness;and found human in appearance,he humbled himself,becoming obedient to the point of death,even death on a cross.Because of this, God greatly exalted himand bestowed on him the namewhich is above every name,that at the name of Jesusevery knee should bend,of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess thatJesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.
Paul talks about the first response to Christ's love and mercy is unity. Even if you have a little encouragement in Christ is a little participation in the Spirit. If you have experienced Jesus in any meaningful way then your desire should be to connect with others who have done so. That is a very human thing. If we like a football team we want to talk with other who like the same team. People who read books often join a book club so they can talk about the books they like. People who experience God should be like that to.

We often don't get that in a typical parish. We should be talking about our experience of God. What happens? Often we go to mass and ignore each other. When we do talk we often talk about the weather or politics or anything other than faith. Our experience of Jesus is supposed to be what unites us and binds us as a community. Why are we afraid to talk about it?

The second key to unity is humility. Once you have something that brings you together then you want to avoid the things that pull you apart. Most of them are rooted in pride. We are all different. That is a great thing. Yet if we are all trying show we are a bit bit better than the next man then we are going to be in trouble. So Paul says go the other way. Humbly regard others as more important than yourself. So simply yet so hard to do. 

Then Paul looks at the humility of Jesus.  It is interesting that when Paul talks about Jesus' humility what results is one of the strongest statements of the glory of Christ. Jesus' willingness to humble Himself and even die does not make people think less of Him. Quite the opposite. His humility causes Him to be lifted up and glorified even more than before.

That is often the case. People who blow their own horn tend not to be the ones who are highly thought of. People who quietly make sacrifices do get noticed. Yet that should not be the reason we do it. That would just be an indirect way of blowing our own horn. We can go there so easily. You do something and nobody seems to notice so you just mention it once or twice. Find somebody else who is laboring behind the scenes and mention them once or twice. That builds up the parish community. 

An interesting side note is that this passage is one of the earliest and strongest displays of a high Christology in the early church. Not necessarily saying Jesus is God but talking about Jesus in a way that nobody talked about mere human beings. Philippians was likely written in the 50's ( not the 1950's, the 50's). So we are talking about 20-25 years after the crucifixion.

It is important because many modern scholars say the early church made up the story of the resurrection. Yet if you have a crucifixion and no resurrection then how do you get Jesus being talked about in such a glorified way? What makes it more difficult to explain is that Paul seems to be quoting an early hymn. That means it is not a new teaching. 

So when did this idea develop? Every knee bending before Jesus and every tongue confessing Him as Lord. Secular people need Jesus to be someone who taught some interesting stuff and was crucified and that is it. No resurrection, no miracles and no divinity claims. So how does anyone get from a nice teacher who was unjustly killed to such and exalted status in the space of a few decades? This is a question Pope Benedict raised in his first Jesus of Nazareth book. If you dismiss the supernatural from the Jesus story then there is no reason this should happen. 


  1. Excuse me for digressing, Randy, but did you happen to be raised Christian Reformed?

    1. Yes. Got the full treatment. Preacher's kid. Christian school. Calvin College. Generally a very good upbringing. Learned to love Jesus and love the scriptures. Very grateful.

    2. I could tell. Of course the last name helps. :-) When did you become Catholic? Marry into it? or other... Lutheran was as close as I could get. :-)

    3. I became Catholic 10 years ago last Easter. I did marry a Catholic long before that but I could not convert because I did not believe it was true. I let the issue sit for a long time and we just went to both CRC and Catholic services every week. I was raised on 2 services every Sunday so that worked.

      Then I read a book by Scott Hahn called Rome Sweet Home. It didn't convince me Catholics were right but it did make me realize I didn't know the main Protestant/Catholic arguments very well. So I did some research. I kept reading. I kept thinking. I kept praying. Eventually I became convinced Jesus started the Catholic church and He wants all His followers to become members. It is the way the Kingdom of God is supposed to work.

      I would be happy to go into some details about exactly what I found convincing. Let me know if you are interested.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoy hearing about the spiritual journey of other people-how they get from point A to point B. I married a CRC pastor's son so my joining the Catholic church might be a little much for him, but I have been drawn to Catholic spirituality and Christ in the Eucharist for many years. My favorite book is Ronald Rolheiser's "Our One Great Act of Fidelity." He's probably a little liberal for you, but he meets me where I am - a Sacramental Christian who loves history and mystery, and needed to escape from the easy answers of my youth. Thank you again for sharing your story!