26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached October 1, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
We live today in an exceedingly fragmented world, a new Babel in which we no longer know how to speak with one another and understand one another. In the midst of the this division, disunity, and fragmentation, St. Paul speaks to us across the ages saying, Complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.
Well if there is one thing we should have learned by now it is that no amount of ‘negotiation’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘compromise’ will, by itself, achieve this unity. ‘Negotiation’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘compromise’ has been the path towards unity and peace that has been continually proposed during the past half-century, but the reality has been only increased fragmentation to the point of the politicization of everything. Perhaps that is because so long as people are looking out each for his own interests, no matter how enlightened, ‘negotiation’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘compromise’ end up being reduced to tools manipulated by individuals and groups each looking for the triumph of their own interest.
In any case, ‘negotiation’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘compromise’ is not the path proposed by St. Paul. The path St. Paul sets forth is the path of each one conforming to a recognized standard, Jesus Christ. The path to true unity and peace is achieved by conforming to Jesus Christ, to following his path; he is the Cornerstone and there is no other. He declared many times he who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (cf. Mt 23:12, Lk 14:11) St. Paul tells us have in you the same attitude that is also in Jesus Christ. He then shows us the path of self-emptying, self-humiliation, and obedience that Jesus followed, together with the exaltation that he received.
We need to meditate on Jesus example and then reflect on what it means for us. We need to consider how to follow Jesus in his self-emptying, in his self-abasement or humiliation, and in his obedience, but we need to consider also the exaltation that we are to share in.
We cannot understand Jesus’ self-emptying unless we first know who he is: the eternal Son of God. That is also why we follow him. He the eternal Son of God exalted above the heavens emptied himself. How? By taking the form of a slave. How did he take the form of a slave? By coming in human likeness.
In the Nicene Creed we say that by the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man and in the Apostles Creed that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. That is how the Son of God emptied himself and took the form of a slave. The form of a slave that he took was our human nature, a human nature that he has kept and has glorified and has raised up with himself to the right hand of his Father.
How must we, who already possess this ‘form of a slave’, empty ourselves, following his example?
First, we must each recognize, “I am not God.” It should be pretty obvious, except that we are often so full of ourselves that we think, judge, speak, and act, each one as though we were little gods.
Next, emptying ourselves of our pretended divinity means emptying ourselves of our own ideas, opinions, and plans. You see, it is fine for lords and gods to have their ideas, opinions, and plans, but that is not right for slaves.
We must recognize that the fundamental status of human nature before God is that of a slave. I am not my own; I belong first and absolutely to God. This is the slavery that sets us free; if we reject this slavery in the name of freedom we will in the end find ourselves subject to the most abject slavery of all, interior slavery to the world, the flesh, and the devil.
So, I must learn to present myself before God as a slave, saying, Here I am, I come to do your will. (Heb 10:7) I must learn to pray, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. I must learn to beg God, like a poor slave, give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.
If, as a slave of God, I am empty of my own ideas, opinions, and plans, then I am also open to receive.
Here discernment is necessary. I must not be open to receive just anything from anyone, but rather I must be open to receive God’s truth and God’s plans into my soul, into my mind, into my heart. Faith in Jesus Christ, faith that is not my own invention, but the faith received from and handed down in the Church, is what opens me to receive God’s truth and God’s plans.
The supreme model of this faith is the Blessed Virgin Mary who kneeling before the angel declared, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may be it done to me according to your word, and so by her self-emptying, opened the door for the Son of God to empty himself and take flesh in her womb. (Lk 1:38)
Next, Jesus humbled himself. How did he humble himself? By performing the part of a slave, by obeying. So he said, My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. (Jn 4:34) Jesus, fulfilled the part of a slave, not the slave of man, but the slave of God.
How far did Jesus obey God? To the point of death, death on a cross.
Jesus act of obedience was an act of self-surrender, an act of sacrifice, a priestly offering to God, through which he wrought our salvation. By obeying God he also becomes our servant; he washes our feet. The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. (Mt 20:28) And, Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:8-10)
So for us, it is not enough that we empty ourselves in faith, letting ourselves be formed from within by God’s truth and by his plan, it is not enough for us to hear the word of God, we must also put it into practice; we must obey, from the heart, willingly and generously. (Cf. Mt 7:24-27)
Jesus says, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Mt 7:21) And the voice of the Father declares on the mount of Transfiguration: This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him. (Mt 17:5) That is obey him. And the Blessed Virgin Mary tells us, Do whatever he tells you. (Jn 2:5)
We must obey Jesus, the eternal Word of God, by hearing his word and putting it into practice. We obey Jesus, the Son of God, through whom all things were made, when we obey the order of creation, the natural law; we obey Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, when we obey legitimate human authorities; we obey Jesus, the head of his Body, the Church, when we obey those who hold authority in the sacred order or hierarchy of the Church.
Through the practice of obedience we die to our own self-will, our own egoism, so as to live for Jesus Christ, so that his Kingdom might be established in us.
Now, I am here going to propose to you two practical resolutions to put this practice of obedience into effect. First, sometime during this coming week read some passage of Sacred Scripture, the word of God, meditate upon it, and then form one simple, concrete, practical resolution, then put it into practice – Do it! Second, one time during this coming week when someone tells you do to something, directly or indirectly, courteously or abruptly, do it. Do it promptly, gladly, and without complaining. In both cases, do it because for you Jesus was made obedient to the point of death, death on a Cross.
Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, death on the Cross. We might think that with his death it has ended, that now that he is seated at the right hand of his Father he no longer empties himself and obeys. Nevertheless, to this day he humbly obeys his priests during the celebration of the Mass and at their command he empties himself once more, changing the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, and giving himself to us beneath the lowly appearances of bread and wine.
Still, the self-emptying is not the end point of Jesus’ trajectory. Because he emptied himself, because he humbled himself, God exalted him and set him at his right hand on a throne of glory. God exalted Jesus in the very human nature, the very form of the slave that he took from us; it is the man Jesus Christ who has now received the name above every other name and is worshiped as the Son of God in the glory of the Father.
He is the stone rejected by the builders, the cornerstone of the temple of God, the only foundation for true unity and peace. (cf. Mt 21:42;1 Pe 2:4-5; Col 1:19-20; 1 Tim 2:5-6) In him, we too are exalted, we have received his glorious name; through our baptism we have received the inheritance of the children of God; after we suffer with him so as to be glorified with him, we shall be united to him forever in the heavenly kingdom, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints. (cf. 2 Tim 2:12)