In my estimation, there is not a more stunning, mysterious, and beautiful Scripture written about Jesus Christ than this, the ‘Christ Hymn of Philippians’ as it is called. In such few words, it captures perfectly the beauty and the drama of the earth-shattering truth of the Incarnation. It reveals a God whose heart is full of extreme humility, refusing to hold over the heads of humanity his magnificence, in contrast to the earthly powers and principalities that revel in their power all too often. It reveals a God who is willing to embrace suffering…to embrace the brokenness of human life…to endure the kind of slavery that marks the human condition. A slavery identified with limitations, with boundaries, with hunger, thirst, and pain…a slavery that resulted in the God of the universe, made flesh in Jesus Christ, embracing the ultimate human limitation of death.
And it’s this same Jesus Christ that the ruling powers and principalities accused of ‘perverting our nation.’ From our point of view, how misguided they were…those who failed to grasp the revelation that the God of the Universe embraced extreme humility to bring about the salvation of the world. In a sense, though, they were right. Jesus was perverting a nation, a system, an entire world that itself was given over to a true perversion…the perversion of God’s ideals for human relationships. From a rigid adherence to the law that was far from liberating, to an imperial system that brutalized those under its boots, the world that Jesus inhabited needed to be transformed and redeemed. The people cried out for salvation and sanctification. But to those content with the status quo, to the ruling class of religious leaders and imperial authorities, anything that threatened their present reality would naturally have seemed like a perversion. And though Jesus may not exactly have forbidden people to pay taxes, it was certainly the case that his messianic acts called into question the unwavering rule of Caesar and revealed the Roman system to be devoid of righteousness and virtue.
If only the rulers and the chief priests had opened themselves up to the possibility that God’s revelation need not conform to their expectations of Messianic reign, they may have grasped the profound beauty made flesh in Jesus. If only the Roman authorities could have grasped the truth that divinity did not need to be exercised through acts of violence and oppression, they might have sensed the deep truth made flesh in Jesus. But their own pride and vainglory blinded them to this truth.
Their accusations speak to the truth that the depth of Jesus is masked to those who themselves will not embrace humility in response to the goodness of a loving God who went above and beyond what should be expected of a Sovereign Lord.
Which led me to think about our world today.
Will you willingly let him disrupt your social order, disturb your life, turn your world upside down? Or will you stand as an accuser, resisting Jesus’ desire to set you free from that which binds you and keeps you enslaved?
*A sermon preached on Palm Sunday 2016 at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM. The texts were Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11 and Luke 22:14-23:56.