6th Sunday of Lent Palm Sunday April 5, 2020
Kenosis - Kenosis is the theme behind all of this week's readings. It is what God demands from each of us. Kenosis is a Greek word that means to voluntarily empty one's self. Why is "self-emptying" oneself so important? Because when we empty ourselves we have all the room in the world for God. God becomes our center, and he fills us with his presence. Emptying ourselves requires us to let go of the past and to rid ourselves of our anxiety over the future - both of which prevent us from being free. Emptying ourselves requires us to completely change the way we think and act. We must free ourselves from worldly distractions that keep us from entering into a fuller relationship with God. In essence, we must become Christ-like. Impossible? Not at all! We "put on Christ," and cloaked ourselves with Christ at Baptism. We went from graceless beings to grace-filled beings, awashed in God's love and friendship. We were transformed into living tabernacles housing the fullness of the Holy Spirit through our Baptism. In Confirmation we received the power of the Holy Spirit. Our relationship with Christ was heightened and intensified in that the spiritual character we received transformed us into the likeness of Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit given and received at Confirmation enabled us to embrace and live out this new configuration to Christ. Our reception of Holy Eucharist makes us holy. We consume the living God and if we do so with an open and eager heart, the living God will consume us and lead us to become the saint he created us to be. Every saint modelled his or her life after Christ Jesus using the gifts and talents that God graced them with. If our destiny is heaven, then the goal of life must be to become a saint. Not everyone is called to the heroic virtue that some saints in history displayed, but everyone is called to holiness. God gives us everything we need to become who he created us to be, and kenosis is a key component in our quest for sainthood and heaven.
The First Reading
In our first reading, Isaiah is steadfast in his mission to proclaim God's word, despite the fact that the people grow weary of his pervasive optimism in the face of their suffering. He finds himself abused and ridiculed. Serving the Lord was difficult and challenging, yet the prophet never lost hope. As Isaiah proclaims, "God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced." This allows Isaiah to set his face like flint, unflinching in the face of adversity and persecution ready to ignite and rekindle the faith of the people in spite of the obstacles he faces knowing he will not be shamed for serving the Lord. It is God who provides him with the words need to rouse the hearts of his people. It is God who opens his heart and mind to the message he desires him to proclaim. How can he fail with God at his side?
Isaiah was called by God to be not only more than he was, but also more than he thought he could be. In accepting the role of the prophet, Isaiah had to experience kenosis! He had to empty himself of all those things that might prevent him from becoming the person God called him to be. He set aside what he desired for himself and instead served God's desires. He left is life behind to take up a new life as a servant and messenger of God. Where these choices easy? We'd be naive if we thought they were. Every prophet struggled with his calling. Some, like Jonah, even rebelled. Others, like Ezekiel, grumbled and complained to God. Yet, by emptying themselves, i.e., freeing themselves of those things that would keep them from serving God, they freed themselves to become who God created them to be - great prophets. By emptying himself, Isaiah was able to be single-minded in his service to God. He had no doubt that he would be vindicated once God brought his word to fruition.
The epitome of Kenosis is revealed by Paul in the second reading. The word "grasped" in this passage does not mean "comprehension." Rather, it means to take hold of our to possess. For even though Paul declares that Jesus was God, he notes that Jesus did not exploit (grasp) his Godliness for self-serving purposes. Instead he took the form of a slave. This is a powerful statement in a time when slavery was not only the norm, but the main source of currency in the Roman Empire. A slave was expected to be obedient to his Master from whom he received he worth and identity. In stating that Jesus took on the form of a slave, Paul is noting that Jesus' identity is inextricably linked to God's. As a slave, Jesus was faithful in his obedience to God, setting aside his own desires, wants, and needs to do his Father's will even to the point of laying down his life as a ransom for us.
Jesus' faithful obedience led him to make some remarkable and controversal decisions in his life. Instead of taking up the trade of his earthly father, after being trained as a carpenter, he sets that way of life aside to become an itinerant preacher. Instead of marrying and raising a family which was prized in Jewish life, Jesus gave up love of family for love of the world. By emptying himself, he was able to submit his human will to his divine will, and the will of his Father in Heaven, which enabled him to accept his death on the cross for love of God and love of the world. Make no mistake. It was not easy. To say otherwise is to deny Jesus' humanity.
Paul's letter to the Philippians challenged the community to become self-givers. To achieve this they must first turn away from the lure of worldly things like power, control, greed, affluence, and selfishness. Paul reminds the community that Jesus could have laid claim to the rights, power and privileges that came from his being God's Son, but instead Christ emptied himself so that he could become sin. He emptied himself so that he would be able to freely embrace his passion and death on a humble wooden throne - the cross. Paul's reading reminds us that we too are called to follow in Christ's footsteps. We too are challenged to become "Christ-like." For us to be able to achieve this challenge, we too, like Christ, must empty ourselves. How willing are we to submit our will to God's holy will?
Our passion narrative in this week's Gospel is compelling. Once again, we relive the moments of Jesus' kenosis. He empties himself at the Last Supper and gives us the most precious gift of his body and blood in the Eucharist. In the Garden of Gethsemane he empties himself of his fear and trepidation over what he knows he is about to face, thus freeing himself to proclaim, "Not my will, but your will be done!" Then he empties himself and freely embraces his death on the cross so that, in laying his life down for his friends (i.e., each of us!), he offers us the opportunity for redemption!
The beauty about the passion narrative, as proclaimed on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, is that we assume the role of the characters in the narrative. We place ourselves in the role of accusers, Peter, and the crowd. We may feel uncomfortable doing so. Many times I have heard people say that they do not like playing such parts, for they love Jesus and would never have done such things. Perhaps our discomfort stems from the fact that, deep down, we know that we are coming face-to-face with our own ugliness as we face our own complicity in Jesus' death. Every time we act selfishly and sin we justify the need for Jesus' having to die for our salvation. Our sinfulness may be conscious or unconscious, implicit or explicit, sins of commission or omission. Each and every one of us is a sinner. Each and every one of us is complicit in Jesus' death. We may be uncomfortable facing that reality, but there is no escaping it. Every time we sin we deny, betray, and abandon Jesus.
The Church, in its wisdom, calls us to walk with Christ as he journeys towards the cross. As we undertake the journey we are challenged to submit ourselves to the will of God - to experience our own kenosis as we walk with Christ. Every time we empty ourselves of our own self-interests, selfishness, hurt, anger, fear, hopelessness, hatred, jealousy, etc., we free ourselves to become who God created us to be and take one step closer to holiness. Furthermore, we are freed to love one another completely and without reservation as God loves us. We are freed to forgive as God forgives. By emptying ourselves, we live the passion of Jesus Christ and proclaim in word and deed that Christ did not die in vain! He died so that we may become holy and attain eternity with the God who loved us into existence. That, my brother and sisters, is the Good News of the Gospel.
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