Palm Sunday is par excellence the day in which we remember Jesus’ humility. How He came into Jerusalem, not with an army or array of power and might, but in humility and servitude. Over the ages, Christianity has always been marked by those two characteristics; humility and servitude. And next week at Easter we are reminded about what this humility and servitude means for all of us, when we remember the most important event in Jesus’ ministry.
Having the reading from Philippians 2 is a great description of this humility and servitude, but also how it should overflow in our own thoughts and lives. For this reason the apostle Paul wrote: ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant...’
When a new pope has been chosen he is led by the cardinals to his new seat and all cardinals kneel down before him. The story goes of how one the cardinals, because of his old age, found it difficult to get on his knees. This was somewhere in the 1970-ies. When the new chosen pop noticed it he came down from his thrown, because he understood what the verses in Philippians 2:5-11 mean. But even more than that; how he had to bring these words into practice.
We can speak for hours about the beauty of the words of Philippians 2:5-11, as many theologians did, because the amount of written material on it is plentiful. Like one of the most revered standard works on the Greek text on Philippians is from Peter O’Brien and his book contains about 600 pages, of which already about 100 of these are only written concerning those few verses.
When we think about the mind of Jesus, Paul reminds us first that is a mind of servanthood. Jesus became a servant, or slave as the Greek says. And a slave in the Greek world had a connotation with humility and servitude. Jesus entered our world not as Kurios, as Lord, the Name He acquired at His vindication, but as doulos, servant. A person without advantages, no rights of privileges, but in servanthood to all. Paul is very strong in imitating this attitude, because at the beginning of his letter to the Philippians Paul is calling himself and his companions, servants of Jesus.
When there’s such an emphasis throughout the whole NT, to learn about and imitate this humility and servanthood of Jesus Christ to one another, we cannot deny the words and commands Jesus spoke.
Over the last few months I’ve noticed in the news a lot of hatred and singling out of a particular nation as being the pinnacle of all evil, but what are we sowing in the end. Or better say, what we sow we shall also reap. This is not to deny evil what is happening, but how we react to it.
When Paul urges us to have the same mind in us as Jesus had, it is also the same Jesus Who said to the people in Luke 6: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who abuse you’.... and ‘love your enemies and do good....and your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for He is kind.....Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’. The nation we’re now talking about have never called our nation their enemies and neither have they attacked us. If Jesus asks us to love even our enemies, how then with those whom we don’t agree with or who do evil.
If we want to bring the commands of Jesus into practice and have the mind of Jesus in us, we might face a problem ourselves. Years ago I remember a small poster with the words: dead fish flow with the stream, in other words: live fish swim against the stream.
Having a different mindset means we could easily become singled out ourselves as well. Simply, because we go against the stream of public opinion. And not only public opinion, but even perhaps against our own leaders who seem primarily not to call for peace and reconciliation, but for retribution and anger.
We’ll have to be careful not to let our hearts and minds be filled with hatred and retribution, as we hear, see and read about so much in the media. This is not to downplay the suffering caused by the evil actions, but how bring into practice the words of Jesus to even love our enemies. When we only want to hear from Jesus Christ the words we want to hear, we are not far of from the crowds who welcomed Him in as their saviour, but crucified Him within a week.
The crowds were disappointed about Jesus, because they had hoped different things from Him. They had heard His words and experienced His good actions for at least 3 years, but still it hadn’t made sense to them and therefore they became disillusioned and rejected Him at the end.
A few years ago there was a movement of priests leaving the CofE, because they couldn’t live with some changes the church was making. Many who left went to the RC church and the RC archbishop of Westminster welcomed them in. But, as he said; our church is not a restaurant with a menu from which you can pick and choose.
There’s not much difference in the Christian faith either. It is not a restaurant with a menu from which we can pick and choose according to our own desires or preferences. If Jesus calls us to follow Him, it could sometimes mean a different attitude and mindset than many others around us and that cannot always be easy.
Jesus Christ did not seek His own glory, but became subservient to the love of God. And Paul shows us how God is not acquisitive, grasping and seizing, but self-giving for the sake of others. Palm Sunday followed by Easter are the moments in which we remember that attitude and mindset which brought Jesus Christ to the cross for you and me.