Though in the form of God,
Christ Jesus did not cling to equality with God,
But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
and was born in human likeness.
Being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
I grew up in my grandparents’ home, as many of you know. As a little girl, I adored my grandfather, and I think it is safe to say that he adored me, too. In the absence of my biological father, my grandfather became mine, and in the absence of his own biological child, I became his. Though he died over 40 years ago now, I still carry deeply intimate memories of how I felt when I was with him—before he died, when I wasn’t in school or off reading a book, I was always by his side.
I remember, even before I was old enough for school, being in his garden with him—he behind a hand-driven plow, furrowing rows, me behind him dropping seeds and covering them up with a little hoe. By that time in his life, there were no tractors—the plow was pulled by a mule owned by his brother, a mule we walked three miles round-trip to borrow on plowing day. Well, that’s not exactly true—my grandfather walked three miles. I rode on the mule’s back with my grandfather leading him by the reins for half the journey.
Other times, he rescued me from harm’s way—the time the billy-goat tried to impale me in a stall, the afternoon when, while we were in the midst of those rows in the garden, a well-camouflaged rattlesnake came slithering between my legs. The latter might have been disastrous, except for the fact that despite my inclination to break and run, I trusted my grandfather so that I obeyed his barked command to freeze where I stood.
I followed my grandfather everywhere, emulating him in virtually everything. Sometimes the result wasn’t pleasurable—I watched him stomp on a bee once and followed suit, neglecting to notice that he was wearing hobnail boots and I was…barefoot. I flattened my thumb a few times with a ball-peen hammer, too.
I think we forget what “following” Jesus means sometimes, that it’s too easy for us to think of Jesus the human as uniquely “gifted” with the ability “not to sin” because he was also “divine,” and ignore the call to follow in his steps, to live according to his example. Not because we’re belligerent, rebellious children, but because we believe ourselves not gifted in the same way. And yet, because we are “made in His image,” I think we are also, each of us, divine—born in the “form of God.”
There are some who would call that statement “sacrilegious,” a blasphemy, a lack of reverence for my Creator, and step away from the thought, fearful that I will be struck dead where I stand, turned into a pillar of salt. The key for me is the first full line in the passage above—“Though in the form of God, Christ Jesus did not cling to equality with God.” I believe that the spirit of God is infused into us at the very beginning of all our lives, just as it was Jesus. But to acknowledge that one is a “chip off the old block” is not the same as to claim “equality” with the block itself. There is no question that we are, in no way, equal with the great I Am—just as it would be folly to say that a single drop of water is equal to the ocean. To claim that would be idolatry.
But, even so, every once in a while, if we can empty ourselves and allow that breath—that piece of the spirit of God that is already there—to fill us up completely, we see ourselves and each other through God’s eyes, just as I did long, long ago in my grandfather’s eyes.
And if we do, we will follow him anywhere.