Today’s reading from the Gentle Shepherd’s Service for the Second Sunday in Lent is from the Jerusalem Bible version of the Epistle to the Philippians, Chapter 3, verse 17 to Chapter 4, verse 1:
“My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe. So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.” This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Today’s reading comes near the end of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. His tone is both emotional and pastoral, offering his urgent opinions about the issues and the good things about the life of that community. This passage falls into two broad sections. The first section concerns how true believers behave. The second section concerns the eschatological hope of believers in the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at the end of time.
St. Paul speaks of unnamed “adversaries.” Consequently, we do not know if he was referring to people who were trying to force the community back towards Jewish law and traditions, people who were trying to preach a different view of the Gospel, or people who were following wild or violent lifestyles. Whoever they were, St. Paul did not approve of them. To him, they were: “…enemies of the cross of Christ.” More specifically, St. Paul is referring to the way of life of whole groups of people as being antithetical to Christianity. In response, St. Paul makes a radical plea to those who have followed a different path. He invites them to follow him, to “be united” in following his way of life, and to model his version of Christianity.
The eschatological basis for St. Paul’s exhortation comes from his view of where true believers really reside. For true Christians, St. Paul asserts that: “…our homeland is in heaven….” Christians, then, are not citizens of earthly powers and principalities. Their citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and it is based upon their faith rather than their place of birth, family relations, or economic status. Yet, in all of this, St. Paul is not calling for a rejection of bodily needs. His view of Christianity is not a rejection of the body. He does not separate the body from the soul, nor make one superior to the other.
What he is calling for is an eschatological emphasis upon personal change. He is asking us to change how seriously we view what we do while we are in our bodies. He is asking us to take our everyday thoughts, actions, and interactions seriously. Such a profound level of self-reflection should not be reserved just for the Philippians, of course. During the season of Lent, God calls upon us to consider the depth of our faith. What are we really willing to give up? What about us can we transform? Will those changes remain once Lent is over and the joyous resurrection and ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is celebrated? St. Paul’s great gifts as a minister included encouragement. He encouraged his audience to follow the example of himself and his followers. He showed them that, with God’s grace, the imperfect could be useful. He showed them that maintaining the patterns and beliefs of their faith gave them hope of the new heaven and the new earth, where all would be citizens of the Kingdom of God and where all could partake in the just reward of a bountiful Life Everlasting! Amen and Amen.