“One day I will do something that will change the system and everyone will then know my name and remember me.” These are reported to be the words of Andreas Lubitz to his former girlfriend, prior to committing mass murder by deliberately crashing an Airbus A320 into the French Alps this week. His action is currently being described in the news media as a case of depression. But depressed people don’t generally commit murder on a grand scale. On the other hand, people under the influence of Satan do. Let’s remember who the real enemy is. And remember that the best way to counter evil is prayer.
Lubitz wanted to elevate his own name. In contrast, we read in today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians , how Jesus:
… humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
John Bergsma has a beautiful commentary on this reading over at The Sacred Page.
This famous passage—often thought to be a early Christian hymn or creed that St. Paul is quoting—gives an outline of the whole Gospel. Jesus did not see “equality with God as something to be seized,” using the Greek word harpagmon, from a root harpazo, “to snatch or seize, often quickly or violently.” Jesus is thus a contrast with the Greco-Roman mythical hero Prometheus, who ascended to the realm of the gods and “snatched” fire, bringing it back to man in an effort to attain equality with the divine. So Prometheus has always stood as an icon of rebellion against God or the gods, and a worldview that imagines the divine as opposed to or limiting the human. In this worldview, humanity is liberated and fulfilled at the expense of the divine; the realm of God must be rolled back to make way for the kingdom of man. This spirit continues to animate the New Atheist movement in our own day (with their flagship publisher, Prometheus Books), which is more a miso-theistic (God-hating) cultural force than an a-theistic (no-God) one.
In contrast to Prometheus, Jesus does not conceive of the relationship between God and man as one of antagonism, in which the divine nature must be violently “snatched” from the Divinity. Jesus empties himself of the glory of his divinity in order to descend to the status of creature, of “slave.” Crucifixion was the form of execution mandated for slaves; citizens could not be crucified. Having taken on human nature, he submits to the death of slaves: “even death on a cross.” But paradoxically, this great act of self-giving love shows the glory of Jesus and the glory of God. Truly, a God who would so empty himself out of love is greater, more lovable, more worthy of worship, than a God who will not give of himself. The cross is the glory of our God. So God the Father bestows on Jesus “the Name which is above every name”, so that at the Name of Jesus, “every knee should bend.” St. Paul probably has in mind here the ancient ritual of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), on which, according to the Mishnah, the High Priest would exit the Holy of Holies after making atonement for Israel and pronounce the priestly blessing of Numbers 6 upon the gathered worshipers. This was the one day a year (apparently) when the Divine Name YHWH was pronounced audibly, and each time the assembly heard the name pronounced, they dropped to the ground in prostration. The name of “Jesus” is now heir to the glory of the divine name YHWH. In the Name of Jesus we now find salvation. Thus, in the Catholic tradition we bow the head at the Name of Jesus and celebrate the Feast Day of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Jan 3), for which our present text is an optional Second Reading.
Unlike the New Atheists, the Jesus and his disciples do not regard the divine-human relationship as one of antagonism where goods are “snatched” from each other, but a relationship of communion, love, and self-gift. The human is not exalted at the expense of the divine; rather, human and divine are exalted together. God and man are mutually glorified by loving each other. Humanity becomes more human by becoming more divine. Divinization also humanizes.
Today is the beginning of Holy Week, where we follow Jesus from his final entry into Jerusalem to his Resurrection. This year we have the narration from the Gospel of Mark. You can download a 12 page Mass booklet for the Palm Sunday Procession and Mass here:
Word format: Year B Palm Passion Sunday
Pdf format: Year B Palm Passion Sunday