Walking Unafraid

Philippians 2: 5-8

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2: 5-8)

In 1973 Benigno Aquino, famous for his gifts as a public speaker and for his brilliant mind became the leading candidate for the presidency of the Philippines when then President Marcos was scheduled to leave office after completing the maximum two terms as president. Aquino’s ambition to be president was never realized, however, because President Marcos declared martial law and dissolved the constitution, claiming supreme power and jailing his political opponents, including Aquino. Aquino was charged with murder, subversion and illegal possession of firearms. Although he denied the charges, Aquino was found guilty and was convicted by a military tribunal, or military court, and spent over seven years in prison. In 1980 he was allowed to go to the United States for a heart bypass operation where he remained until 1983. Throughout his years of expatriation, Aquino was always aware that his life in the U.S. was temporary. He never stopped affirming his eventual return.

In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino kept receiving news about the deteriorating political situation in his country combined with the rumored declining health of President Ferdinand Marcos. He believed that it was expedient for him to speak to Marcos and present to him his rationale for the country’s return to democracy, before extremists took over and made such a change impossible. Moreover, Aquino’s years of absence made his allies worry that the Filipinos might have resigned themselves to Marcos’ strongman rule and that without his leadership the centrist opposition would die a natural death.

Aquino decided to go back to the Philippines fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. Warned that he would either be imprisoned or killed, Aquino answered, “if it’s my fate to die by an assassin’s bullet, so be it. But I cannot be petrified by inaction, or fear of assassination, and therefore stay in the corner…” Sensing his own impending death, he told the journalists accompanying him on the flight back to the Philippines that you “have to be ready with your camera because this action can become very fast… in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over… and I may not be able to talk to you again after this….”In his last formal statement that he wasn’t able to deliver, he wrote, “I have returned to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedom through nonviolence. I seek no confrontation.”

Despite a convoy of security guards (all assigned to him by the Marcos government), a contingent of 1,200 military and police personnel on the apron, three armed bodyguards personally escorting him, and a bulletproof vest Aquino was wearing, Aquino was fatally shot in the head as he was escorted off the airplane. His death catapulted his widow, Corazon Aquino, to the limelight and subsequently to the presidency, replacing the 20-year Marcos regime. In 2004, the anniversary of his death was proclaimed as a national holiday now known as Ninoy Aquino Day.

In the same manner we remember today, Palm Sunday, the story of Jesus returning to Jerusalem with his message of love and justice only to be arrested and killed for that message by those in authority. John Buchanan describes the day this way: Palm Sunday “is a day of irony and swirling emotion, a day of contrasts between momentary triumph and looming, foreboding tragedy. And what I love most about it is Jesus’ own intentionality, the difficult human decisions that are at the heart of it all and how that is an example of human life lived at its highest and holiest and best.”

Jesus did not have to go to Jerusalem. He made the choice to go. Luke tells us 5 times that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. He was determined to follow where he thought God wanted him to go and to do what God wanted him to do in the face of great danger. Jesus entered Jerusalem at the time of Passover when the city was packed with thousands of people taken up in the religious fervor of Passover and putting every one’s nerves on edge. He came into the city on a donkey fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The people seeing Jesus shouted, “Blessed is the king,” angering the Romans whose king reigned in Rome, not in Jerusalem. The next day upon entering the Temple and throwing out the money changers Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah for all to hear, “’My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” This greatly angered the Jewish priests and scribes and immediately, the Bible says, they began looking for a way to kill him. Jesus came to Jerusalem, face forward, determined to live true to his understanding of God and what God called him to do…no matter what. “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever the cost,” Arthur Ashe said. Jesus came into Jerusalem to serve God, whatever the cost.

One can wonder if Isaiah 50 was on Jesus’ mind on that fateful Sunday and in the days that followed.

The Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been

disgraced;

therefore I have set my face

like flint,

and I know that I shall not be

put to shame;

he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.

Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me.

Jesus made the choice to serve God and to be a servant to his people even at the price of his life because he had the faith that he was not alone….that God would sustain him through whatever happened.

Jesus came to be a servant but not with an attitude of servitude. Servanthood, writes Michael Williams, “is an offering of service to others as a result of a choice made by the one providing the service. It is the volitional quality of servanthood that distinguishes it from servitude. The servant freely chooses to act for the benefit of others. The irony that the servant teaches and embodies is the radical reversal of common sense: the only true freedom is to choose to serve others, even those who intend or who do us actual harm.”

It is this attitude of servanthood that Paul describes in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave;” Jesus had the mind of a servant and the hallmark of his teaching was to turn from selfpreoccupation to attention to others. It was in freely choosing his actions that he found his power and it was only in serving others that he experienced true freedom from the crippling occupation with self.

Living with the mind of Christ, as Paul suggests, means taking up the idea that the best way to go through life, the most faithful way to go through life is found in being a servant… in putting the welfare of others first. Any time we refrain from self-centered ways of acting, speaking and even thinking, we are putting others first. There was a man who spoke to a group of high school girls at a luncheon in Minneapolis. After his talk he answered questions, and the girl who presided asked, “You’ve used the word love many times. What does love mean to you?” He answered her, “When your boyfriend’s welfare means more to you than your own, you are in love.” This girl turned to the rest of the gathering and said candidly, “Well, I guess none of us has ever been in love.” Paul Craddock describes holy week that is before us, as the “central act of the drama of salvation.” Jesus’ redeeming act “is an act of humble service. Christ acted on our behalf without view of gain.” There are those who preach a triumphant Jesus, a Jesus who entered Jerusalem, threw out the money changers, confronted Herod and the chief priests with confidence because he knew the future, that he would rise from the dead and triumph over death. This is not a human Jesus. To be born in human likeness, to have emptied himself and taken the form of a human being means that Jesus died without the promise of reward. According to Craddock “the tomb of Jesus was not a tunnel but a cave. The future was closed.” Christ lived in the service of others not being sure of the outcome. “Jesus emptied himself not in spite of being in the form of God,” writes Laura Mendenhall, “but because that is what God is like.” There is a negative selfemptying where, out of guilt or fear, we give in to the other. But there is a kind of self-emptying, a Jesus king of self-emptying that is rich in value and that does not destroy the essence of who we are but rather fulfills it or perfects it in love. Love is a total self-giving of one’s self to another. John writes that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but because God loves us and wants to save us. (John 3:17).

As Jesus was poised to enter Jerusalem, writes Buchanan: “[it] was an existential moment for Jesus, the decision to be what he believed God called him to be, a moment that comes to all of us at one time or another when we decide who we are and what we will do.” We face that existential decision over and over again every time we consider the pattern of life we want to follow, every time we make a choice, every time we decide to trust in God. “We see in Jesus’ courageous decision the only way to fully live our own lives; by making the difficult decision, taking risks, starting an arduous journey without knowing how exactly it will end.”

How can we possibly live this way…moving forward, giving of ourselves to others, letting go and taking risks? The world, we know, is a dangerous place. Suffering comes to each and everyone of us even if we put ourselves first. The prophet Isaiah promises us that no matter what happens justice will win out. The world that God created, in which God is present as redeemer, is built on a structure of justice, assuring that the world will, in God’s time, be healed. The servant in Isaiah remains faithful because it is God who helps him. Jesus remained firm and resolved because of his confidence in God. Jesus described this way of living as the narrow path that leads to life. Hard as it is to believe this life of self-giving love is life lived at its most fulfilling – the kind of life that gives lasting joy and deep satisfaction. Palm Sunday, says Barbara Brown Taylor, “is not a time when we focus on what we believe. It is a time to focus on what Jesus did and what we are able to do because he did.” “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard his status as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.” May we follow in his foot steps. Amen.