Philippians 2:6-11 (NRSVCE)
Christ Jesus, 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.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
It’s Palm Sunday today, the day when we commemorate Christ’s very public entrance into Jerusalem, and the day which leads us into Holy Week. We heard the full Passion narrative at mass today, but before we got there we heard St. Paul with his Christological hymn in his letter to the Philippians. This passage is especially important as we approach Easter, but it’s also relevant to a few things we have already reflected on this Lent.
Recall when we talked just a few days ago about how God desires relationship with us. God is not some absent heavenly monarch who demands obedience and worship from us from up on His throne. God desires closeness with man, so much so that when man was falling away the Son was willing to lower himself to the point of even becoming man. He was in the form of God, but he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Meaning the Son did not seek to use His divine power and authority to impose His will on the world, to demand the world’s submission, indeed even to force it to be so. Rather, He desired relationship. He desired closeness. Because of His love for man and for all Creation, he took on the weak and miserable human condition.
This is not as you might see in pagan religions either. Plenty of pagan gods are said to have “come in human likeness”, as a sort of disguise that helps them deceive actual humans. Unlike those pagan gods, who are “like” man in appearance only, Jesus truly is man in his very nature. Fully man, and fully God. It’s a closeness which is almost too incredible to believe! Because of His deep love for us, for you and me, God was willing to become one of us, even to die like one of us, all for our sake. It’s the central message of the Gospels, and the truth upon which all of Christianity hinges.
Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about this passage in terms of descent and ascent. We first have the descent, of the Son emptying Himself and becoming man, in obedience to the will of the Father. That obedience carries through to His Passion, and to the Crucifixion. That obedience is why, when we see the risen Christ at the Resurrection, God exalts him above all. We see the ascent, and the Son rejoining the Father in glory. Jesus has been given the name of Lord, a name which places him as the king of all Creation, so that all knees shall bend and all heads shall bow before him. The Holy Father says, “In the Son, the project of salvation reaches fulfilment and the faithful are invited, especially in the liturgy, to announce and to live the fruits [of salvation].” The project of salvation is complete through Christ’s obedience. So too our own salvation comes from obedience, through our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, and all the implication thereof. If we truly confess that Christ is Lord, our knees will bend, our heads will bow, and we will proclaim the glory of His name above all other names.