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The Way of Jesus
The Way of Jesus

Self-Emptying Love

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Though his state was that of God, yet he did not deem equality with God something he should cling to. Rather, he emptied himself.… And being made in human likeness, he humbled himself, by becoming obedient unto death—even death on a cross.  
—Philippians 2:6–8  

CAC faculty emerita Cynthia Bourgeault identifies discipleship with following Jesus’ “path of self-emptying love”:   

In this beautiful hymn [from Philippians], Paul recognizes that Jesus had only one “operational mode.” Everything he did, he did by self-emptying. He emptied himself and descended into human form. And he emptied himself still further (“even unto death on the cross”) and fell through the bottom to return to the realms of dominion and glory. In whatever life circumstance, Jesus always responded with the same motion of self-emptying—or to put it another way, of the same motion of descent: going lower, taking the lower place, not the higher.…  

He certainly called us to dying to self, but his idea of dying to self was not through inner renunciation or guarding the purity of his being but through radically squandering everything he had and was. John the Baptist’s disciples were horrified because [Jesus] banqueted, drank, and danced. The Pharisees were horrified because he healed on the Sabbath and kept company with women and disreputables, people known to be impure. Boundaries meant nothing to him; he walked right through them.  

What seemed disconcerting to nearly everybody was the messy, freewheeling largeness of his spirit. Abundance and a generosity bordering on extravagant seemed to be the signatures of both his teaching and his personal style.… As we look further, that extravagance is everywhere. When he feeds the multitudes at the Sea of Galilee, there is not merely enough to go around; the leftovers fill twelve baskets…. He seems not to count the cost; in fact, he specifically forbids counting the cost. “Do not store up treasures on earth,” he teaches; do not strive or be afraid— “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). All will come of its own accord in good time and with abundant fullness, so long as one does not attempt to hoard or cling.   

It is a path he himself walked to the very end. In the garden of Gethsemane, with his betrayers and accusers massing at the gates, he struggled and anguished but remained true to his course. Do not hoard, do not cling—not even to life itself. Let it go, let it be— “Not my will but yours be done, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my spirit” [Luke 22:42; 23:46]. 

Thus he came and thus he went, giving himself fully into life and death, losing himself, squandering himself, “gambling away every gift God bestows.” [1] It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that opened the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven.   


[1] Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnawi, book 6, line 1970, in Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulness and the Essential Self, Kabir Edmund Helminski (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), 142. 

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2008), 64, 69–70.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Jenna Keiper, Taos Snow. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 2. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.  

Like ever-changing light in snow, we open to surprises on the way of Jesus. 

Story from Our Community:

I came to prayer and spirituality after a difficult time in my life. At first, the process of prayer was awkward and foreign to me, but I kept at it. Not clear what direction to take, each morning, I prayed for God to show me the way. One morning, I awoke from a dream with Philippians 2:5 stuck in my mind. Not being a Bible reader, I had no idea what it meant. I found a Bible and read the passage—the message was quite clear: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” I was struck by the profundity of the message. Since then, one day at a time, I have tried to honor it by reading the Daily Meditations and engaging in a practice of contemplation. I’ve found myself changed in a wonderful way.Terry L.  

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