Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Going Down

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
   Though he was God,
      he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
   Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
      he took the humble position of a slave
      and was born as a human being.
   When he appeared in human form,
      he humbled himself in obedience to God
      and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
                                                                Philippians 2:5-8

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Paul’s description of Jesus here would not be good marketing material for attracting disciples. We would rather skip over these verses and go to verses 9-11 that talk about glory and knees bowing and honor. I would much rather be on the glory train than the slavery train.

Yet Paul tells us that our attitude and our lives are to be patterned after the life and death of Jesus. The cross not only represents the means for our salvation but also the way by which we should live. Jesus bore suffering for the sake of others. He gave up his divine privileges for the sake of others. He poured out his life for the sake of others. He identified himself with criminals for the sake of others. And I am called to do likewise. That’s not a comfortable call. I’m not real sure I want to do these things, but discipleship means that I pattern my life after the life of Jesus, and his life also includes the way he died for others.

Jesus identified himself with those who suffer. He didn’t just identify with those who suffered unjustly, as we see in the way he treated the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).  He told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. To use a phrase from the book Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross by Michael Gorman, Jesus chose to be downwardly mobile.

The downwardly mobile journey will take everything I have to give. It involves not only becoming externally downwardly mobile in choosing to identify with the ignored, the outcast, the oppressed and the forgotten. If I do only this, I will become exhausted and burned out. I must also become inwardly downwardly mobile, going deeper in my relationship with God, sending my roots down deep to the source of Love and Truth. If I only focus on the inward journey, I am selfish, taking the blessings of Christ only for myself and this leads to self-righteous superiority, not at all the attitude of Jesus.

Downward mobility is not an easy path, but it is the path we are called to take. Help me, God, to turn away from the privileges and take up the cross. Amen.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Generosity vs. Grudges

"When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will had you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won't be free again until you have paid the last penny."                                                 Matthew 5:25-26

While Jesus' advice here might reduce the need for the legal system, I don't believe eliminating bureaucracy was the reason for this teaching. Jesus has a deeper message: when we refuse to reconcile, we imprison ourselves. Jesus leads up to this by teaching that even being angry at another makes us subject to judgment (Matthew 5:22).

This is one reason generosity is a fruit of the Spirit. A generous person is not only generous with her money, but with her love as well. If I hold a grudge against another, my hands are too full to offer gifts to God or to anyone else. I cannot praise God while resenting one of God's children. I am just a "noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1). I am just going through the motions without any substance within.

It is so much harder to hold a grudge and live in the prison of resentment than it is to let it go and be reconciled. Being generous is a life-giving attitude. The more generous you are, the greater your joy. Joy cannot live in a resentful heart, and a resentful heart can make me physically sick and certainly does make me spiritually sick. Holding a grudge holds me in a prison that keeps me from taking hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:19).