Reflecting on Philippians for Palm Sunday

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 2:5-11:

The passage as example. The first and best application of this passage is the one Paul himself makes in the Letter to the Philippians. The Christ hymn illustrates the mind-set he exhorts Christians to take on in the preceding verses (1:27–2:4). Then in the verses that follow (2:12–18) he will apply the example of Christ in concrete ways to the life of the community.

The passage as a prayer of the Church. The passage has such beauty and wholeness that it lends itself to being lifted from its epistolary context and used as a freestanding text for prayer, meditation, liturgical reading, and song. Indeed, it is likely that more Christians have experienced the text in these contexts than in the context of the letter itself. In that way, it is like the three canticles drawn from the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Luke—the Magnificat (1:46–55), the Benedictus (1:68–79), and the Nunc Dimittis (2:29–32).

The passage as a source of doctrine. Paul speaks of Christ as being “in the form of God” and not considering “equality with God” as something to be taken advantage of. In all this, he refers to the preexistent, eternally divine Son of God in a way that parallels the thought of Heb 1:1–14, the prologue of John (1:1–4), the affirmation of 1 Cor 8:6, and the hymn of Col 1:15–20. It is important to notice that Paul is not teaching the preexistence of the Son as something new. He presumes that this is common knowledge among Christians as he moves to present first Christ’s self-emptying in his †incarnation and then the self-humiliation of his earthly life and shameful death as the pattern and standard for the life of a Christian.

While Paul is not explicitly spelling out the doctrine of Jesus as Second Person of the Trinity, his text provided some of the raw material that the Church, some three centuries later, would use to formulate the doctrine of Jesus as the eternal Son “consubstantial” with the Father.

 

 

© 2013 Dennis Hamm and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Philippians for the Second Sunday of Lent

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 3:17:

Paul’s exhortation to be imitators of me may sound strange to our ears. We are reluctant to present ourselves as moral or religious examples. But in the ancient Greco-Roman world it was a common and acceptable practice for teachers to point to themselves as examples. It is human nature to look for examples to imitate; and teachers know that their role inevitably makes them examples, for better or for worse.

Moreover, we acknowledge this fact in plenty of ways in our own culture: consider the recovering alcoholics who tell their stories to other alcoholics to encourage them, or excercise enthusiasts who speak of the new energy they have gained from an exercise program in order to prompt sluggish friends to join them in the gym.

Paul describes the imitation in a careful way: join with others in being imitators of me, literally, “be co-imitators of me.” Since this word appears nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in Greek literature generally, it seems that Paul has coined it to emphasize imitation as a communal enterprise; they are to collaborate as a church in emulating Paul’s way of life. Indeed, he develops that idea: observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. They are to imitate one another as they follow Paul’s way of imitating

Christ himself. The plural “us” underscores the fact that Paul is not the only model. For example, his cosender Timothy and the Philippians’ emissary Epaphroditus are also to be viewed as models (2:19–30).

 

 

© 2013 Dennis Hamm and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.