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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

The Mind of Christ
distributed 3/21/08 - ©2008

This Good Friday, I find my thoughts being drawn again and again to a familiar passage of scripture -- a beautiful text, and one of great theological importance. It is not a passage that is usually associated with eco-justice, but I find it speaking to me about the depth of transformation and the quality of hope that we need to address the crises of our time.

In the second chapter of Philippians, the apostle Paul writes words of instruction and encouragement to people struggling with persecution. He calls on the Christians of Philippi to "be of the same mind" as Christ.

The mind of Christ is a Good Friday mind.

Paul quotes what was apparently a familiar hymn in the early church. Christ Jesus, he reminds them:

being in the form of God,
did not count equality with God something to be grasped.
But he emptied himself,
        taking the form of a slave,
        becoming as human beings are;
and being in every way like a human being,
        he was humbler yet,
        even to accepting death, death on a cross. (New Jerusalem Bible)

Paul does not see this self-emptying -- "kenosis" -- as confined to the death of Jesus. It is a quality of life and faith that is to be adopted by all Christians. When the humble mind of Christ is taken up in community, it has practical consequences and everyday implications. Paul encourages them to be

of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others.

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I hear in the ancient Christian hymn an echo back to the story of the Garden of Eden. Equality with God is a very old temptation.

The serpent seduced the human couple, enticing them to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. The tempter promised that, "when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

They ate, and indeed, the innocent people did have their eyes opened. They came to a new knowledge of themselves, a tragic awareness in which they focused on their personal self-interest. That knowledge demolished their joy, spoiled their mutuality with each other and with the creation, fractured their relationship with God, and corrupted their role as stewards of the Garden. When they tried to grasp equality with God, they found shame and they resorted to blame. We tell the old story because the tragedy in the Garden sounds painfully like our own concern with self. It is our story, too.

Jesus, on the other hand, did not try to grasp equality with God. As a result, he did not fall into the concern with self that ruined Eve and Adam. Obedience, service, love and compassion were his motivations -- not self-interest.

At the core of the Christian faith, at the heart of the proclamation for Good Friday and Easter, is the good news that humility and self-emptying are good.

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus" is good news and a challenging goal. It calls us to be changed even to the basis of how we have seen the human condition. It promises that, in the model of Christ, there is a different way of being. By looking to the interests of others, our lives are transformed.

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Paul did not write to the troubled church in Philippi with words about soil conservation, or God's love for the bunnies, or the health risks of lead in the plumbing systems of Roman cities. As we normally categorize such things, there is nothing here that would flag this passage as "environmental". It does not give explicit instruction about how to relate to "nature".

But, as I reflect on the frightening, tragic state of our world -- as I see the pervasive destruction of life and the wasting of resources -- I hear Paul's words of guidance speaking to the very core of what we need to hear.

In our globalized society, the tempters play on our self-interest. They promise wealth and comfort and privilege and convenience. They do not speak of the 1/3 of the world's human population that lives in stark poverty, or of the species who are crowded and poisoned into extinction, or of the future generations who will be forced to deal with diminished possibilities and disrupted natural systems. The wasting of the world is driven, in significant measure, by our selfishness, ambition and conceit. It is enabled by our blindness to great suffering, and our lack of compassion.

On this Good Friday, I wonder how our world might be healed and transformed if we -- those of us who call ourselves "Christian" -- were of the same mind as Christ. I wonder what it would be like if we, in faith, humbled ourselves. I wonder what it would be like if we did not, first and foremost, look to our own interests, but to the interests of others -- of all of our neighbors, human and other-than-human, now and into the future.

If that mind of Christ came to be in us, even a little bit, I do believe that we would find it impossible to live so easily within this society of exploitation and abuse. If the mind of Christ were in us, we would be compelled to empty ourselves of our questing after power, privilege, convenience and possessions. To the extent that we can find the mind of Christ in us, we will be called toward sustainability and sufficiency, toward justice and compassion, toward life and healing.

On this Good Friday, we look to the self-emptying of Jesus as a transformative act of love. We name that mind of Christ as the center of our faith. We long to adopt that mind of Christ as our own.

As we dig deep into our faith and spirituality on this holy weekend, may we find hope and grace in the transformative way of Jesus, our Christ. May we discern the goodness of humbling our selfish desires. May we find healing for ourselves and the planet as we seek to take on the mind of Christ.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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