Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the fortune to look into the Creeds of the Church and the history behind them with a bit more depth than usual. One of the central issues behind the Creeds is the dual nature of Jesus, who, as the Church holds, is both fully man and fully God. The implications of that being made a little more clear in a passage of Scripture known as the Kenosis Passage, Philippians 2:5-11
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Kenosis comes from the Greek word κενοω which means “to empty” or “to make void.” (http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2758&t=NASB) Its traditional use is in regards to how Jesus emptied himself by taking on human form and making the move from divine to mundane. As has been mentioned before, this made him vulnerable to hunger, exhaustion, disease, stepping in camel poop, death, and ruptured relationship with himself should he sin. But throughout my life I’ve had the fortunate misfortune of being alongside family, loved ones, and friends as they struggled and suffered with the troubles life brings (along with the joys) and being human, have suffered many of those troubles myself. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve studied, the more I realized that becoming human wasn’t the final kenosis of Jesus. He could have been made a human and then become a king leading an army fed, healed, and even resurrected by his miracles. No one would have been able to stop him. His teaching and speaking ability could have made him a great rabbi and orator. Thousands more would have not only flocked to hear him teach, but paid money to study under him and learn from him. Instead he wandered the wilderness followed by a crowd of common, dirty, smelly people and specifically called poor fishermen and tax collectors and others who had been deemed unfit to continue studying in school and without a future in the religious teaching world. These people followed him and he had compassion on them. Looking at his life and ministry, he wept with the grieving, suffered with the suffering, and was low with the lowly. How often do we model this kenosis in our understanding of what it means to be Christian? What do we do to lower ourselves and our needs and quiet the million other things clamoring for our attention to be able to give that compassion and love to another human being?
Henri Nouwen says this about the compassionate life:
“The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid. Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose poverty when wealth is within reach? Who will choose the hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands from all sides?” (Nouwen, Henri. Here and Now. p. 138)
How do we practice downward mobility, or as it has been called, kenosis?