Palm Sunday – Manifesting the Glory of God

Entry into Jerusalem, Wilhelm Morgner, 1912,
Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany.
(About this Image)

The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
(Matthew 21:9)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Palm Sunday
Philippians 2:6-11
April 2, 2023

None of the New Testament authors wrote a catechism. They addressed the concerns of specific communities and breathed the air of the marketplace more than the cloister. Their situations and concerns are often very specific. These specifics have given their writings a longer life than if they presented detached universal and eternal truths. They experienced the life of their communities and even if some of the language and concepts may be initially foreign the situations are all too familiar.

This is especially so in Paul’s “Letter to the Philippians”. We examined this letter before and basic information can be found here. Philippi, like most of Paul’s cities, was an important center. It was noted for its “light manufacturing” and had fewer Jews than most of the places Paul evangelized. It did have in common, however, with virtually all of them dissension and divisions not only because of different beliefs but personal rivalries. Near the very beginning of the letter, he writes:

Of course, some preach Christ from envy and rivalry,
others from good will.

(Php 1:15)

He acknowledges that there are some who have come from outside the community. These may include pagans who want the believers to return to the State religion:

Not intimidated in any way by your opponents.
This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation.
And this is God’s doing.

(Php 1:28)

But also, Jews who want the men in this predominately Gentle community to be circumcised. Paul responds as you would expect:

Beware of the dogs!
Beware of the evil workers!
Beware of the mutilation!

(Php 3:2)

Most painful to Paul however is the rivalry between two of the leading women in the community.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche
to come to a mutual understanding in the Lord.

We looked at this before. Paul approaches this as a personal and not a theological issue. Like all dissension in the church, it can be solved only by a change of heart or conversion. Paul is very deliberate in his approach.

He begins the letter with:

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus,
to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,
with the overseers and ministers

(Php 1:1)

Paul usually refers to himself as an apostle. Here he calls himself a slave to reflect Jesus in today’s reading.

He addresses the leaders of the community: the overseers and the ministers—immediately after urging Euodia and Syntyche—to reconcile. This is a problem of the entire church, and its leadership will be judged by how well they solve it.

Yes, and I ask you also, my true yokemate, to help them,
for they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel,
along with Clement and my other co-workers,
whose names are in the book of life.

(Php 4:2–3).

“Yokemate” is a fellow slave to Christ.

For Paul working together as the Body of Christ a true Christian community is not based on obedience to laws or customs but by acting like Christ. The line before today’s reading is:

Have among yourselves the same attitude (phroneō)
that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

(Php 2:5)

Paul uses phroneo many times in this letter. It has the sense of habit—this “attitude” is not only to be known but to be assimilated. Indeed, this is for the entire community—yours is plural here—this way of being is what makes a Christian Community Christian.

Today’s reading is a hymn with two basic stanzas, a going down and then a rising up. It most likely predated Paul and should be seen as a very early proclamation of Christian Faith.

Who, though he was in the form (morphē) of God,
did not regard (to: the or this) equality with God
something to be grasped /harpagmos/

(Php 2:6)

Form of God is at first reading a very strange expression. God for Paul is the Father, and he is pure spirit. How can he have a “form: Morphe here should be understood as how God presents himself, his glory as Lord. This translation used for Mass does not include the definite article “to” meaning “the or this” before “equality” weakening its meaning. Being in the form of God means that Jesus is the equal of God.

Harpagmos which is translated as grasped is closer to “to be exploited” or used. Jesus has the right to the glory of his position, but he does not exercise it.

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form (morphe) of a slave,
coming in human likeness; (homoiōma)
and found human in appearance (schēma)

(Php 2:7)

Paul is not making a metaphysical statement here. This reflects how one looks, not what one is. He looks like a human being and indeed is one, but he never stops being God. He emptied himself of his status not his being.

Paul and the author of this poem speak to the social pecking order. Jesus did not become a king but a slave. A slave is defined as a person without any rights, a person who exists only to obey. Yet he goes even further:

he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

(Php 2:8)

He will not be rescued from this state but will die as every human will die. But even more shockingly it will be on the cross the most painful and humiliating death in the Roman world. This is both physical and social extermination. His audience could not imagine a more degrading end.

Yet this is not the end.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him (hyperypsoō)
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,

(Php 2:9)

Because of his obedience. God—Father—exalted him. This does not mean that he was made God or that divinity was returned to him. He is seen again in an exalted status.

This is reflected in the suffering servant in Isaiah:

See, my servant shall prosper
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted

(Is 52:13)

Yet there is another dimension. The Jews as we have many times seen understood the importance of the Body. In Jesus God will be seen especially at the resurrection of the body, for Catholics the universal judgement, when the sheep will be separated from the goats.

that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

(Php 2:10)

He will be the judge of all and thus is given the mark of respect of a great ruler. We find this too in Isiah.

By myself I swear,
uttering my just decree
and my unalterable word:
To me every knee shall bend;
by me every tongue shall swear

(Is 45:23)

This is for all people, Jews, Christians, and Gentiles—living and dead. The Jews believed that all people would be judged by their connection to Judaism.

Now it would be their connection to Jesus.

and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father

(Php 2:11)

Paul ends by acknowledge again the full divinity of Jesus—Jesus Christ is Kyrios (Lord) but never to the diminishment of the Father. Indeed, Jesus’ exaltation shows the glory of the Father.

I learned what the scriptures meant in the seminary, I learned who they were for in over 40 years of priestly ministry. I have experienced most of the situations in the New Testament and thank their authors for their wisdom.

Paul today is a good example. However thought provoking and stirring his words, he is not interested in metaphysical speculation. He is concerned about the Christians of Philippi especially Euodia and Syntyche. Every priest and minister and now lay leaders know many Euodias and Syntyches. To be truly the church of God we must work together and banish dissension and disunity. To do this we must not only know what the attitude of Christ is, but it must become part of us. Having this attitude ingrained into our very being is the difference between a church betraying human squalor or manifesting divine glory.