Signpost for Sunday 28 Septemeber 2014: Exodus 17. 1-17; Psalm 78. 1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2. 1-13; Matthew 21. 23-32
Moses was no Paul Hogan, but he knew the desert better than did the city-bred slaves he was leading. When they complain about his leadership, they are complaining about God. They have the wrong attitude.
Hans Kung wrote (in The Council and Reunion), “A vague discontent is hurtful; specific criticism is liberating and fruitful.” The criticism by the Israelites was even worse. They suggested that Moses was trying to kill them, not set them free.
The attitudes of the two sons also falls short. One said, “No!” and did; one said, “Yes!” and didn’t. The attitude of the Pharisees to John the Baptist was bad but the notorious sinners had the right attitude to him.
The other attitude to be considered is found in the Epistle. The attitude of the pre-existent Jesus towards his eternal glory is pictured here as something that could have been clung to, but was, instead, poured out like water (or like blood) for the sake of being truly human.
The words of verses 6-11 of Philippians 2 are mostly an early Christian hymn. They are both pictorial and poetic. They are almost a prayer of praise. They can remind us that one early theologian claimed that the only true theology needed to be in the form of prayer.
In fact, this is one of my favourite passages in the Epistles. As a young man, I once used the Greek word kenosis in talk with a much respected priest. It is the word Paul uses here of self-emptying. The reply I got was to remember that with the kenosis there was also enosis – a word then very much in vogue concerning the Cyprus problem and union with Greece. So Jesus was self-emptied, yet he was still totally one with the Father.
That conversation may be why the passage sticks in my mind – the picture of the eternal Son giving up glory for our sake, and the picture of Jesus being in complete communion with his Father. And the self-emptying can be said to be portrayed in its ultimate conclusion in the creed when it says, “He descended into Hell”. Hell is being cut off from God. So far does love go!