…Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…
By what authority are you doing these things?
Paul is keen for the Church in Philippi to have a strong sense of unity. It is of course the goal that every pastor, Parish Priest and Bishop have for their congregation. The trouble is our vision of unity is largely, let’s all be in the same mind as “me”. In Philippi the “me” was either one of the two women who were leaders in the Church, Euodia and Syntyche. Every church has people who show leadership even when they are not on the Council or in any role of authority.
Paul wisely clarifies his call to unity by encouraging the Church to have the same mind as Christ. He goes on to use perhaps a hymn they were familiar with which celebrates Jesus’ profound humility. Not only did the son of God become human but took the role of a slave and even died on a cross like a criminal. So, Paul is saying to every member of the Church make humility the core value that unites you. Don’t go assuming your ideas, your spirituality, interpretation of the Scriptures, etc. are the only correct way of doing and seeing things. Paul would have us see others as better than ourselves and seek to serve their needs before our own.
The strange thing is that when we actually seek to meet other people’s needs before our own we discover that we are happier. When we strive to meet our own “needs” we might be happy for a while but often the happiness is short lived. Paying attention to others needs brings a deeper and longer lasting happiness. So Paul was effectively saying to the Philippians not only will you gain deeper unity in this way but you will be blessed with joy as well.
Now in the Gospel reading for today we see those in authority, the ones who are accustomed to have the places of honour challenging Jesus. Who do you think you are? Paul has just told us, Jesus came along, and he had embraced being a nobody, a salve and on a par with the criminals. So, they had good reason to ask Jesus what he thought he was up to. After all the questions they put to Jesus come after he has come marching into town, albeit on a donkey, and then proceeded to cause mayhem in the Temple courtyard overturning tables and chasing the money changes out. And now he has turned up again teaching in the temple courtyard. By what authority did he think he had to do all this. When you are merely a servant you have no authority.
Now Jesus seems to always have a witty answer or come back up his sleeve. May be even before he rode into town on the donkey and created a storm in the temple he had wondered how he might respond to obvious questions afterwards. Was Jesus like a good chess player planning sever steps ahead. Ride into town on a donkey at the same time as the Roman officials arrive via the western gate on their war horses. In so doing gather a crowd of ordinary people who will follow all the way to the temple. Overturn the tables in the temple courtyard challenging the unhealthy relationship between the Temple and Rome. Do all of this as a humble prophet from the north with no credentials or authority and then imply the same authority as John the Baptist. Knowing that the Chief priests and elders would say fine. They would then make their move and gleefully call out checkmate as Jesus was handed over to be put to death. The cost is huge when you challenge people of power from a position without power.
While the chief priests and the elders are going off orchestrate the crucifixion Jesus tells the story of the two brothers. Folk like the Chief priests and elders say yes to God. We will serve. The tax collectors and the prostitutes effectively say no to God. Perhaps it’s their greed or the necessities of life brought on by poverty that make them choose their paths. But the nature of the Kingdom of God is that the people who know they have sinned discover grace. They discover the wonderful love of God.
In his book “What is so amazing about grace?” Philip Yancey tells us about the AA group who meet in the basement of his church. When invited to their gatherings he often sees more humility and love than in his church that worships upstairs. Perhaps we too might discover the alcoholics and the gamblers who meet in our church hall are at home in the Kingdom of God before us.
So when Paul is encouraging the church in Philippi and us to have the mind of Christ, he is inviting the Philippians and us to costly humility. But this humility, as Paul says, leads to unity. The social scientists today tell us seeking to serve the needs of others before our own will bring us happiness. Jesus, in his parable of the two sons is telling us, that humbly recognising one’s sinfulness does in deed bring unity and joy and it is the entry point of the Kingdom of God. It is the place of resurrection.
Now these past three weeks I have been trying to sharpen our vision of a Christian Community. The humility that Paul invites us into and that Jesus models is essential to the aspects of Community previously mentioned.
It is much easier to forgive a brother or sister when they have “sinned against you” if you have the humility to admit that you too have sinned. Sometimes we are reminded that when you point the finger at another you always have three fingers pointing back at yourself.
It is easier to respect others and to see them as children of God when we know that despite everything God loves us. Together, we are children of God. We respect them because the humility in us allows us to see them through God’s loving eyes.
We are much less inclined to grumble and complain when we humbly recognise that we have let the community down from time to time. That same humility helps us to see the many blessings that others bring to our church community. We then warmly celebrate their gifts and we give thanks to God for them.
Now of course, all these things of forgiveness, respect, and less grumbling and more gratitude are not just important in the Church. In a marriage, they make the difference be a marriage that lasts 70 years and one that survives just 7. In a family, or a sporting team, or a dance troop, these same qualities make a huge difference. In all of these places, humility undergirds the commitment to generous forgiveness, deep respect and gratitude. So, don’t leave these ideas at the door of the church on your way home.
I have been endeavouring to sharpen our vision of Christian Community because I believe the Covid crisis can be turned into a Covid opportunity. Covid has knocked us all around. It has been like an earthquake shifting the ground we were standing on. The opportunity for us is to build an even stronger community than we had before and in so doing be a place of warmth and love where people can discover strong connections. We will be able to be a huge blessing to our community because our strengths will be grounded in the humility we see in Jesus.