Jeus Humbled Himself

Jeus Humbled Himself

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

October 1, 2023

Jeus Humbled Himself

Homily for October 1, 2023

The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Phil 2:1-13


In this morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul quotes a hymn that is thought to be among the oldest, if not the oldest, material in the New Testament. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians sometime around the year 60, and scholars believe the hymn Paul cites is older still.  Paul quotes:


Jesus Christ… 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 inhuman form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.


This hymn is important to us today for any number of reasons, not least because it offers a window into whom the earliest Church believed Jesus to be and how we then should live.   Perhaps a helpful way to look through this window is first to look not at what is in the hymn but at what is not in the hymn.  (And here, if you’d like to follow along, maybe find the Bible that is in your pew – we have one per pew – and turn to Philippians.)


For example, nowhere does the hymn mention love, that Jesus loves us. Save for the crucifixion, the hymn does not reference any event from the life of Jesus – no teachings, no stories, no miracles.  The hymn does not mention the Eucharist,which we know the earliest Church practiced; nor does the hymn mention anyone besides Jesus – not Mary nor the disciples nor anyone else.  Though the hymn does speak of what we now call“the Incarnation,” it speaks of it rather obliquely and in the passive – Jesus was “born in human likeness” and was “found in human form.”  Though the hymn mentions crucifixion, the hymn says nothing about resurrection.   And though the hymn talks about Jesus’ dying, the hymn does not attach a “why” for Jesus’ death - the hymn does not connect Jesus’ death to our atonement.


Granted, not every hymn can be about everything, and doctrines such as the Incarnation and atonement are not yet fully nuanced in the earliest years of the church.  But there is much this hymn does not contain.

What the hymn does contain is language about 1) who Jesus is, 2) what Jesus has done, and 3) a call to us as to how we can respond.


1)    Who Jesus is.  Jesus is “in the form of God,” says the hymn, having “equality with God;” and (toward the end) “Jesus… is Lord.”  

2)    What Jesus did.  Jesus “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” but “emptied himself.”  He “took the form of a slave,” and “became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

3)    What is our response.  Because God has therefore“highly exalted him,” “every knee should bend… and every tongue should confess that Jesus… is Lord.”


According to the hymn, the reason Jesus is worthy of our attention and worship is because he humbled himself.  Here, as we look through the window of this early hymn into the early Church, Jesus was not seen to be attractive so much because of his teaching or because of his miracles or because he rose from the dead or even because he has “saved” us; Jesus was not even seen to be attractive because he loves us.  Rather, Jesus is seen to be worthy of our attention, devotion and worship because he emptied and humbled himself, becoming “obedient to the point of death, even death on across.”


I like this early, shall we say “raw,” form of Christianity not yet cumbered by stories of miracles or resurrection, or by doctrines of the Trinity or substitutionary atonement,stories and doctrines that so many find difficult.  Christ’s appeal – why he is worthy of our attention and indeed devoting our life to – lies in his humility, his willingness to empty himself, to be “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”


As for our response to this passage… Paul is right, I think, to point the Philippians to Christ’s example of humility, telling them to “look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” and “in humility [to] regard others as better than yourselves.”  For living in Christian community – be it in a parish, in a family, in Trinity House next door –[living in Christian community] is a constant κένωσις (kenosis), or “emptying” of ourselves,  and the call to “take the form of a servant”is ever before us.  And I wonder if – to help keep before us this early, “raw” understanding of who Jesus is apart from later doctrine and teaching, that before anything else Jesus humbled and emptied himself  – [I wonder if,] in places where we wish our community to be more intentionally “Christian,” we might want hang a crucifix to remind us that first and foremost, before anything else, Jesus emptied and humbled himself.  So that, with God’s help, as we are in Christian community, we might indeed have “the same mind be in [us] as was in Christ Jesus,


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…
And… he humbled himself”


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