Tumbling in the Sand
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:6-7
Philippians 2:5-11 is one of my favourite pieces of scripture. Many scholars think that Paul took this from an early hymn that was sung in the Christian community. It has poetic, hymnic beauty about it.
The first time I really ever studied this passage was with a group called World Servants. We were working in Ecuador building a couple of buildings for an orphanage there as well as doing a VBS program with them and playing lots of fútbol (soccer). I think it was then that I first tripped over this line: “taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness…” It’s as though human is being equated with slave or servant. Really, Paul or the hymn writer, makes no distinction here, and even the next line, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself…” (human being = servant)
I think this little equation of human with servant (or slave) is an interesting one. And an important one. Often when we talk about Jesus, we talk about how Jesus is the model of what it is to be fully human. And we talk about the rest of us as not quite being fully human—not fully human in the way that God intended us—formed us—to be human.
You see, our first and deepest sin is that we aspire to not be human: Adam and Eve wanted to be “like gods.” Or that’s what the snake tempted them with, anyway. In other words, we want to be more than human. Unfortunately, in reaching for that, we become less than human instead. Therefore, our movement away from sin and toward fullness of life is to become more human—not more god-like. And this little passage suggests, then, that the way that we become most human is through serving, through servanthood.
I think that during Holy Week we have an opportunity to practice and witness our humanity in a particularly unique way. It is during this time that we witness Jesus acting most human, most humble: in his riding on a donkey, in his tears over the people of Jerusalem, in his anger in the temple, in his sharing a meal with his friends, in his washing his disciples—his betrayers—feet, in his anguished prayers in the garden, in his silent submission to corrupted power, in his releasing of his life back to God.
And we have the opportunity during this time to practice being fully human: waving palms in prayer and praise, not always even understanding what we pray for; kneeling at another’s feet to pour water over them and dry them with a towel and allowing someone to do the same to us; sharing a table and meal with people we do not know so well and people we do know well—trusting that we all will be fed; sitting with the discomfort of suffering and death and being not contented with it, but discontented; listening with horror to the consequences of our reaching to be gods and lamenting that sin; waiting with hope for the first rays of resurrection dawn; and doing this all in community so that we may learn how to serve one another as we become more fully human.
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