Wednesday of week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Phil 2:12-18

Today’s reading follows immediately on yesterday’s hymn about the “mind of Christ”, depicted in his “self-emptying” as his way to glory.

Paul now exhorts the Philippians to follow the teaching he has given them, which is none other than the teaching of Jesus and the Gospel. They did follow his teaching when he was with them (during visits on his second and third missionary journeys) and he hopes that they will continue to do so now that they are separated from each other.

He tells them to work out their salvation “in fear and trembling”. Working out their salvation means leaving themselves continually open to the loving influence of God in their lives. Salvation is not something that one achieves by one’s own efforts; it comes from accepting the love of God into one’s life and behaving accordingly. As Paul says today, “It is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you.” Every good thing we say and do, we say and do in him and through him – and for him.

The phrase “in fear and trembling” is a biblical cliche‚ used several times by Paul and is not intended in a frightening sense. Rather it calls for that sense of awe and reverence which comes when we begin to grasp the transcendence, the unknowability of our God.

Paul now indicates some of the areas where we ensure that we experience the saving power of God and have the mind of Christ. All that has to be done should be carried out without complaining or arguing. One senses that in fact there was a certain amount of complaining and arguing going on among them. Such complaining could be discontent with their lot, resulting in grumbling against God. The arguing could be over issues in the church which resulted in division and disunity.

Paul wants the Philippians to be “perfect children of God” among a “deceitful and underhand brood”. He wants them to give a convincing witness of the Gospel vision in the unbelieving and immoral world which surrounds them.

In the surrounding darkness of sin and immorality, they will then shine out like stars. This reflects the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he told his disciples to be the light of the world, to be a lamp giving light to all in the house, to be a city on a hill… (Matt 5:13-16). An invisible Christian is a contradiction in terms; and an immoral Christian is a wound on the Gospel.

But if the Philippians are able to act as Paul urges, it will give him great pride on the day of judgment for it would mean that all his efforts among them had not been in vain. It “would mean that I had not run in the race and exhausted myself for nothing”.

And he goes so far as to say that even if his present imprisonment ends in shedding his blood through a martyr’s death, it would still be an occasion for great joy and thanksgiving both for him and for them. “Even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.” (Another example of the mood of joy which pervades the Letter.)

Libations, or the pouring out of blood, were common in both Greek and Jewish sacrifices. Paul uses this image to express his share in the overall offering that the Philippians have made and are making through the living out of their Christian faith. He may be referring to his whole ministry as one large thanksgiving sacrifice or it is more likely he is speaking of his present imprisonment which might well bring him a martyr’s death. His life would then be poured out as a drink offering accompanying the sacrificial service of the Philippians.

Again we see Paul’s total and unconditional giving of himself to Jesus and the work of proclaiming the Gospel. In this, his own life is secondary. The only thing that matters is – in life or death – being close to Jesus, his beloved Lord.

And, if Paul loses his life, it will not only be a source of joy for Paul himself but something over which the Philippians too should rejoice, because it is another victory of the Gospel over sin and evil.

Let us reflect today on the quality of our witness to the Gospel, both individually and collectively. What image do we have individually and collectively in our society?

It is not a question of being loved and admired. When we are being most Christian may be a time when we will be most violently attacked. But never let it be said that we are clearly unfaithful to the vision of the Gospel we claim to follow.


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