Brothers and sisters: I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
The second reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent starts with verse 8, but to appreciate the import of what Paul is saying, we have to go back, back to the little autobiography he gives us in verses 3-7:
For we are the circumcision [that is, God's set-apart people], we who worship through the Spirit of God, who boast in Christ Jesus and do not put our confidence in flesh, although I myself have grounds for confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he can be confident in flesh, all the more can I. Circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee, in zeal I persecuted the church, in righteousness based on the law I was blameless. [But] whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ.Hear what Paul is saying? His pedigree as a set-apart-person-for-God is as good as it gets. He had it all, did it all. He was born into the right nation, the right tribe, the right family. He joined the right party and became a ranking member.
You know what he calls all that now? Rubbish. I once heard a teacher of scripture say that the Greek might better be translated into English as crap. All of the things that Paul took pride in, built his life on as a faithful man of God? Crap.
Paul is not saying that those things are not good in and of themselves. He's saying that compared to knowing Christ they are nothing and less than nothing. And when he says knowing Christ he means knowing him in his suffering and his death. He says so in no uncertain terms.
Worth more than all the certitude of living in blameless religious perfectionism is suffering and dying with Christ in the hope of resurrection life.
For Entering In...
- As you come more intentionally into the presence of God, can you use your imagination to see the face of Jesus, the face of Mercy, before you, knowing that you are greeted as God's beloved?
- Reflect on these questions:- Spend several minutes allowing your body and mind to be at rest. If thoughts come, let them go by. What if the only thing that mattered was your being, not your thinking or feeling or doing, not your accomplishments, just you?
- What do you take pride in? What about your hereditary lineage, gifts, or accomplishments make you feel special?
- Consider what you're most proud of. Now imagine giving that up, having it erased from your biography. How does that feel? What do you lose? Self-esteem? Identity? Something else?
- Think of all the things that make you you -- all of your roles, the things you do, the ways in which others would describe you or you would describe yourself. What would it mean for all of that to be taken away? What would remain? Don't force an answer; sit with the question.
- Have you ever had an experience of suffering that seemed to you worthwhile, even in the moment? (As a mother, I think of childbirth as an example.) Are there things in your life that have been worth suffering for? What or who do you imagine you would be willing to suffer for?
- Paul talks about "the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Do you know Jesus as Christ, as Lord? If so, how is it "good" for you? Is it your "supreme good"? If you do not know Jesus as Lord, do you know someone who does -- not just someone who says so, but someone in whom you can see the image and likeness of God? What do you notice? What about that seems good?