21 March 2016

Are you ready for a kenosis?

Monday of Holy Week 2016
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we read a portion of Paul's letter to the Philippians, “[Christ] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. . .he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The Son of God empties himself to become the Son of Man. As the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Christ is both human and divine. He poured out his divinity to come among us in flesh and bone; now, this holy week, he pours out his humanity to rejoin his Father, taking with him all who will follow. The first prophetic sign of this kenosis—this emptying out—occurs in Bethany at the beginning of Passover week during a feast thrown in Jesus' honor. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anoints Jesus' feet with a pint of expensive spikenard, a funereal oil used to prepare corpses for burial. Though no one else at the feast seems to understand what Mary is doing, Jesus does. She is anointing his living body before he goes to die on the cross for the sins of the world. This week, he will go to the Place of Skulls, anointed with the stench of the grave.

From today until we shout our first alleluias on Easter morning, we will witness the second kenosis of our Savior, the second time that he freely empties himself out for us. When Mary anoints his feet with $10,000 worth of funeral oil, Judas insincerely objects to the extravagant waste, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” Jesus answers, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” We will not always have the Son of God and Son of Man with us; we will not always have the Christ, flesh and bone, among us. Thus Jesus begins his second kenosis, leaving behind body and blood, accepting the necessity of his death for the salvation of the world. Tomorrow, he will accept the necessity of a double betrayal. Judas will sell him to his enemies, and Peter the Rock will deny him three times. Each day this week, Jesus will accept another detachment from this world, another moment of “letting go,” and loss. By the time he reaches the Place of Skulls, nailed to the cross, he is emptied of life, friendship, loyalty, promise, hope, all that we ourselves—even in our sinfulness—receive as gifts from his Father. Good Friday is good b/c, come the day, we are no longer bound by sin. 

What does Jesus' second kenosis mean for us? How do we follow him in emptying ourselves of all that binds us to this world? First, we must ask: what binds us to this world? Family, friends, plans for the future, the stuff we have and want more of? All of these can and will be lost. None of these is eternal. Are we bound by promises, vows, a determination to live? Also, impermanent, all are fleeting. If you were to be anointed this morning with funeral oils, prepared for burial, what would you need to be freed from in order to enter your grave unattached? Possessions? Sure. Relationships? Yes. How about your sins, your transgressions against God, self, and neighbor? Definitely. How do you follow him in emptying yourself of all that binds you to this world? Surrender, as Christ did, to the inevitability of death, and pour out all that keeps you away from God. Pour out whatever lives on your heart and mind as a parasite. Scrape it off. Rid yourself of obstacles, distractions, accumulated junk, and make room—plenty of room—for the coming of God's Holy Spirit. Empty yourself out by dying to self and find yourself filled with life eternal.


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