“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men… he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross… Wherefore God hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” Philippians 2
“And when he had scourged Jesus he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers took Jesus… and they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe: and when they had platted a crown of thorns they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And they bowed the knee before him and mocked him saying: Hail, King of the Jews.” Matthew 27: 26-29
Here is the young man St. Paul has written about in his letter to the Romans Christians; the man whose name is upon Paul’s lips day and night, the young man Paul says is the Seed of Abraham; the Son of the Promise; the man Paul declares to be God himself in the first sentence he wrote:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God… Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead…”
Though he is the Son of God, Jesus did not stride through Israel three feet off the ground; nor did the splendor of the Shekinah beam from his holy face. By New Testament accounts he did not attract much attention; so unimposing was the boy that in his twelfth year he went missing a whole day before anyone knew it. Next he showed up on the banks for the Jordon when he was about twenty-eight-years-old and only after John points him out did his first disciples take notice. A Samaritan woman drawing water from a well identified him as a Jewish man – that is all, at first. He was indeed a man or as Pilate would put it “The Man.” By simply looking at him you would not have guessed that he could walk on water, heal the sick with his touch, multiply the loaves and fishes, raise the dead, forgive sin, terrify demons, and enrage the priestly elite of Israel. But he did. The Jews had attempted to take him several times, but he simply walked away and they would not take him until he was ready. When Judas betrayed him in the Garden a band of Roman soldiers accompanied the Jews. Apparently they were expecting a fight. “Whom seek ye?” said Jesus. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered. “I am he,” Jesus said. The Bible records that when he spoke the whole lot stepped back and stumbling over one another they fell to the ground. But, by what we call 9:00 a.m., the Roman soldiers with near clinical skill had made of him a bloody mess, nailed to wooden beams till he died. About 26 years later the former rabbi re-named “Paul” wrote to a Church in Philippi and quoted a hymn they all knew:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men… he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross…” Philippians 2
The Creator entered into his creation as a creature so that the creature may enter into the uncreated life of the Creator. Before celebrating our Lord’s Incarnation, Paul’s hymn begins with the declaration that Jesus is in and of himself God Almighty.
“Who being in the form of God…”
The word that has been translated form is the word Aristotle used to speak of the formal cause, which was a component of the essential nature of a thing. It does not mean form, as in only the appearance of a thing. That Christ was in the form of God does not mean that he is like God, or is similar to God, or that he only appears to be God. No. When the Church of Philippi sang “Who being in the form of God,” they meant that Jesus Christ was in fact God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.
The same word is used again in the translation, “the form of a servant. ”
“(Christ) took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men”
This is what it means: Jesus Christ is God and this God became a real human being. He has always been God and he always will be God but he has not always been a human being and he became a human being just like all of us: he had a Mother. He didn’t disguise himself as a human being. He became one of us; the Creator became a creature, body and all. But he became a specific type of creature, a specific type of human being. Not royalty. Not a philosopher. Not even a good citizen. He took upon himself the standing of a slave, a nobody in the eyes of both Jew and Greek. But he became a real human being, a real man, fragile as any other man and beset by the same human contingencies that beset us all. How fragile? Besides experiencing and communicating hunger, thirst, and weariness, he communicated to his disciples his own private, interior experience of temptation, and ultimately the Roman authorities put him to death. God became flesh, he did not merely animate a piece of flesh to disguise his true identity or speak from behind a mask of human flesh. Furthermore God’s human flesh is now part and parcel of his true identity and it always will be. In Genesis we have the narrative of man made in the image of God while in life of Jesus Christ we have the narrative of God made in the image of man. In the story of God’s life made flesh we see not only the uncreated glory of the only begotten Son, but we also see the created glory of his creature man uplifted as God has always intended. And I submit to you that the uplifting and the deification of man and the bestowal of God’s glory upon him was the purpose of creation and the Incarnation brought forth God’s finality; the Incarnation was not God’s back up plan, it was his only plan and it finishes his will for his creature.”
Well, why does this matter to Paul and why is he making this point to the Philippians? Here it is: The Philippians were an ambitious people and in their world it was a matter of “civic pride” to acquire personal honor, credit, and distinction by achieving their ambitions. You cover your city with glory and your city covers you with meaning. Human finality was to be found in the city. Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great founded Philippi and yes it was destroyed, but then it was rebuilt by Augustus Caesar who though declared to be divine by the Roman senate rejected monarchial titles and simply preferred to be known as Princeps Civitatis, the First Citizen. Philippi was steeped in Roman custom and Law and they were proud to be Roman citizens. What was true for Philippi was true for all the cities in Roman antiquity. Paul worried over the Philippians because he knew the claims the city lay upon her citizens and he knew devotion to the city had divide the Church in Philippi; not doctrine, but the Roman virtue of personal pride, position, competition and achievement had divided some members. Paul reminds the Philippians that their “citizenship” is in Heaven.
Years later St. John Chrysostom, in a similar manner, worried over his parishioners in city of Antioch because he knew that beyond the walls of the Christian household, the city was filled with dangers that might wreck Christians and their families: the perils of sex and avarice, but even more deforming to the Christian was the grand vision of the civic man, the good citizen as man’s final cause. A by-product the grand vision of the civic man and possibly the greatest danger to Chrysostom’s flock, was the old Roman social stratification that dehumanized the poor and especially reduced poor, vulnerable, young girls to “atimoi” – non-persons. The weakest people, the nobodies, the most fragile whose image God took upon himself, are used as means to any cheap end. Let’s get back to Jesus now. Just prior to Jesus’ arrest in the Garden, after instituting the Blessed Sacrament, he gathered up his men and he prayed:
“Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was…”
“And now I am no more in the world, but they (my disciples) are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father keep them in thy name…”
“Father, I desire that they also…may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.”
Having gathered strength from his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus then opened himself up completely to Satan’s final assault. Jesus’ hour had come upon the world.
“And when he had scourged Jesus he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers took Jesus… and they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe… And they bowed the knee before him and mocked him saying: Hail, King of the Jews.”
God clothed our first Parents with the skins animals not to cover our shame but rather that we might know from the inside out sin’s finality with regard to creation. Now the moment of Jesus’ glory had come and after scourging the Shepherd of Love, the Roman soldiers covered God made Flesh with a scarlet robe, the blood soaked banner that proclaimed Jesus’ never failing faith in his Father, and they quickly took Jesus off to Golgotha, a high spot not far away. There they nailed him to the cross. He was placed between two criminals but his cross would have been a bit higher since he was the important person being executed. The crosses of the criminals would have been seven or eight feet high; Jesus’ cross would have been no more than nine or ten feet high. The Romans wanted their feet just off the ground for heartless reasons. Some of Israel’s priests followed and stood by the cross mocking him:
“If thou be the Son of God come down from the cross and we will believe him.”
We have heard that voice before:
“If thou be the Son of God turn these stones into bread.”
Again the chief priests repeat what we have heard so many times before:
“He saved other, himself he cannot save: if he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him…”
In the same manner that the serpent offered divinity to Adam his own way, the chief priests became the mouthpiece of Satan offered Jesus the Kingdom without a cross. The young man who died on the cross is God. He has taken our nature into himself and became one of us – body and all. And he has made us partakers of the Divine nature. He has emptied himself for love of his Father and you. And now you and I are called to empty yourself for love of him and others.
“Then the soldiers… platted a crown of thorns and put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying: ‘Hail, King of the Jews.’”