There is a word that I want you to remember. That word is, “kenosis.” It means to empty yourself. We hear it today in the second reading. “Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to lord it over someone else. Instead, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave.” In my opinion, it is among St. Paul’s best theology.
Kenosis goes like this: Jesus, the Son of God, The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, Kyrios, made a conscious decision:
-not to strike down a Pharisee who attached him verbally.
-not to punish an apostle who wanted first place in the kingdom.
-not to flee from Satan when he tempted him at his weakest moment.
(And the most important one)
-not to come down off the cross as he hangs there in physical torment with the crowds taunting him.
But the opposite is also true. Jesus does not empty himself of his divinity:
-when a Samaritan leper cries out for mercy.
-when Bartimaeus pleads and asks for his sight.
-when Martha and Mary ask for their brother back from the tomb.
-when Mary Magdalene and some of the other women seek to be delivered from demons. Here is an example of a Son who said, “Yes, I will go out into the vineyard to perform the works of ministry.” And he means every word.
So, what about the son in the parable who says no to his father but goes out to work? Ok, he does what the father asks. But, so what? Both are fickle. And, we humans can be very fickle. The word means to change frequently…our loyalties…our friendships…our commitments…our promises…our prayers…even to God? And when a fellow disciple confronts us about our fickle behavior, what happens? Sometimes it spills over into capriciousness, we get aggressive or verbally volatile. Or, we avoid them…This is the time we need a “kenosis check.” In the words of St. Paul, “Have in you the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.” When we say yes but quietly whisper, “I’ve got great intentions,” or, “I don’t have to go out of my way to spread the Gospel,” we need more than a kenosis check. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “God does not leave unpunished the unjust behavior of those who think they love God but act otherwise.” Jesus empties himself of his divinity. We need to empty ourselves of our sinful humanity.
Here at this sacred table, Jesus pours out his bottomless mercy at the Eucharist. When we Christians get the urge to let someone have it, when we say yes with good intentions but decide not to minister in the vineyard, quietly whisper, “empty yourself.”
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.