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Blog: April 2, 2023

Fr. Jeff and others share reflections on the Sunday readings.

April 2, 2023

“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,

   did not regard equality with God

   something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,

   taking the form of a slave,

   coming in human likeness;

   and found human in appearance,

   he humbled himself,

   becoming obedient to the point of death,

   even death on a cross.”

This passage of Philippians is the source of our understanding of the Greek word kenosis. It is the operative word in the phrase, “he emptied himself.” The self emptying of Jesus is the heart of kenosis. In some way, to become incarnate, to be born, Jesus limited himself in his divinity to take on our humanity. It is important to recognize that Jesus remained fully divine, he did not empty himself of his divinity. Yet, he limited the full expression of his divinity, the glory and power and magnitude of his divine nature to walk among us as a human being. We get a glimpse of his divine nature at the transfiguration, when his garments were white and he shone like the sun. He could not be fully human and walk around like that every day. No, instead, he took the form of a slave, appearing in human likeness, even to the point of death on a cross. He was only able to enter into our humanity by willingly limiting his divinity. Jesus limited himself in his divinity to become fully human. 

In the self emptying of Jesus, it is as important to realize what he took on. The limiting, emptying, or pouring out of Jesus in his divinity enabled him to take up our humanity. God became fully human. It is not just that he emptied himself, but that by emptying himself, he was able to assume our very humanity. In Jesus’s kenosis, he then filled his emptiness with our humanity. God became man. Jesus took the form of a slave, came in human likeness, and was found in human appearance, even to the point of taking on our final limitation of death. It was the most humiliating and shameful death, death on a cross. By willfully emptying himself, Jesus assumed our full humanity to take what we are and unite it to what he is: unlimited, eternal, and unending love. His self emptying has opened the way for us to eternal life and eternal love. His emptiness is now our fullness. Jesus’s life for ours. His emptiness becomes our exchange. Your life for mine, Lord. Your life for mine. 

People used to ask me if, knowing what I know now, I would go through the Air Force Academy again. My response was always, “No, but I am glad I went through it the first time.” In a like manner, I compared the Academy experience to the seminary experience. In the end, I considered the seminary to be much more challenging and difficult than the Academy. The Academy was more about the externals, as challenging as those were, but the seminary was about the internal conformity to Jesus and proved much, much more challenging. In retrospect, both were a form of kenosis, the first an emptying for service to my country and the second an emptying for conformity to Christ. The challenges of the second were greater than the challenges of the first.

As we enter Holy Week this year, it is a time to empty ourselves. It is a time to limit ourselves, our egos, plans, expectations, desires, and wants. If we are able to do this, we can assume God’s life, will, hopes, desires, and future for us. Jesus’s kenosis is a model for us, a roadmap for our own life. As he emptied himself for us, may we empty ourselves for him. His life for ours. Our lives for his.