I am a member of our Parish Choir and we are given many opportunities to sing beautiful hymns of worship and when we sing, we pray twice. As I study the verses in the hymns or prepare for an anthem to be sung; I reflect on the meaning of each piece. During this Lenten Season we have recently added a new anthem to our repertoire. It is called, “Christ Became Obedient” (taken from Phil 8-9) Lent is my favorite time of the Liturgical year as you can become embodied with the knowledge that Christ is the ultimate model we need to exemplify and, by studying the scriptures found in the hymns, I gain greater understanding of the meaning of these words.
“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 death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. (Phil 2:7-9)
As I sang this hymn and sought out its true meaning, I was compelled to try to understand how it was that Christ so humbled himself before God and died for us. It is with great awe and wonder that we come to know that Jesus was obedient to God’s will no matter how hard it was for him. How hard it is for us to freely forgive as Jesus did and to be obedient to God’s will and not our own. He was the one people had been waiting for. He is Yahweh in the flesh; the one to establish God’s reign and rule; the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is Jesus; both human and divine that fulfilled God’s will and reversed the curse put upon us when Adam and Eve took from the tree of knowledge. This is Jesus the Christ that God spoke of to the Serpent; His mother is the one who will crush its head.
He is the Christ promised to Abraham; The Christ prefigured to Noah during the flood, the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died; the Christ promised to David when he was king; He is the Christ who was revealed to Isaiah as a Suffering Servant; The Servant is steadfast. Hardships and obstacles abounded in the Servant’s path to fidelity. But, God's unfailing love provides strength and guidance. Assured of God’s help, and resolute in faith, the Servant is undaunted in obeying God.
He is the Christ predicted through the Prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist. This Christ is our Lord and God. He is the Father's Son. He is the Savior of the world, and He took upon Himself the sins of the world on our behalf. He is more loving, more holy, more merciful than any of us can imagine. I recall that when he saw people stoning the adulteress woman he stopped them saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her” (Jn 8:7)
Paul’s words in Philippians 2:7-9 portrays Jesus as the incarnate one. The one who made everything made Himself nothing. Christ made himself small never embellishing himself. He was made in the flesh and experienced pain and suffering just as we do. He was a human. When He wept for Jerusalem, His tears were as real as yours and mine. When he asked, “how long must I put up with you? His frustration was honest. (Mk 9:19)
When he cried out from the cross, “My God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus may have been expressing, simultaneously, both the feeling of sheer human physical and emotional misery during His afflictions, and yet, at the same time an underlying surrender to divine providence. It is as if Jesus was saying: "My God, though I feel right now as if You are far away from me, as if You have abandoned Me in My misery and affliction, yet still I know that you are My Father, and so in You I put all my trust."
When he pointed out His mother to John; “Behold the Mother”, he asked John to take care of his beloved Mother as his own. Just as she is mother to Christ, she is mother of us all. Jesus When people mocked Jesus, He did not return the insults. He told us ““Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also” (Mt 5:39) When they called Him crazy, He didn’t strike them blind. He became “obedient to death---even death on a cross.”
Crucifixion was the cruelest form of execution during the Roman Empire, the victim was tortured, scourged, whipped, and nailed to the cross. He hung on that cross, suffering in pain so that salvation in Heaven may one day be ours. He was left naked and bloody, suspended for all to see. He was made guilty although He was free from sin, becoming a public example of how society treats evildoers. He was mocked and spat upon.
It was Jesus on that cross. Jesus took the nails. Jesus took the whips. Jesus bore the shame. He submitted to death on a cross. It was one thing for Christ to enter the womb but quite another to enter the tomb. But the tomb could not hold him.
Jesus came from heavens crown to Bethlehem’s cradle and then to Jerusalem’s cross. Rather than appearing on earth as a glorious God as He will at His return. He entered human history as a helpless baby. The immortal God took on the likeness of mortal man. Paul used several terms to emphasize this incarnation; this identification with humanity. “form” (morphe), “slave”, “likeness” (homoioma), and “appearance” (schema)
When St. Paul tells us that He “emptied Himself” The two emphasized points in this verse focus on “Not clung to” and “emptied” this refers to something that has been nullified of value, emptied in recognition. This passage identified the core of His “emptying”. Taking the form of a slave even though He was existing in the form of deity. This act did not empty Jesus of the reality of His deity, only the manifestation. The second thing he did was “humbled” Himself. This humbling was evidenced by becoming obedient to death on a cross. Humility meant to see oneself as low or make oneself low or weak. The current culture views this trait negatively. The Bible views this trait as necessary. It is not hard to compare how Paul instructed the Philippians to live and the example Jesus left.
Christ exhibited perfect unity with the Father. He demonstrated perfect love because he embraced one purpose with the Father. He showed no trace of selfish ambition or conceit as He humbly considered The Father’s agenda and our needs more important. He looked to our need and not His own.
For this reason, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:9-11
As we celebrate His example of humble sacrifice, may we consider our response to others. Better to think and act humbly now and be exalted later than act exalted now and be humbled later. Our example is Jesus, the crucified, the Risen, so beautifully depicted as the Suffering Servant. His story is of victory, not defeat, life not death. Let us too, join in Christ’s suffering and offer up our pain and to seek His everlasting love and mercy during this Lenten season.