By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Philippians 3:1-11
1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.
To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh — 4 even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Do we boast in Christ, or do we have confidence in the flesh? In St. Paul’s day this meant an entitlement to God’s favor achieved by birthright and zeal for the law. What does that look like for us?
For some, it might look like this:
Born to an Ivy League family, enrolled at the best prep school, wear the best clothes of society, speak well, attended a prestigious graduate school. As to zeal, clerked for all the right judges, prosecuted the right cases, became partner at one of the best firms, and live confident with a sizeable income.
Or maybe this:
Born and raised Christian, made the right choices, gave to charities, volunteered more than anyone else, defended my faith to others, defended my tradition to other (less enlightened) Christians, and know how things should be done. As to zeal, flawless church attendance. As to righteousness — i.e. any major public moral failings — blameless.
How much do we find our security in accomplishment and status? Of course, the vast majority of people know nothing of immense material security or privilege. But we can flaunt all kinds of status and privilege, or envy it from afar, even as we gather the crumbs from the table. Yet St. Paul tells us that even if we had all this, we are to “come to regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.” All our achievements are “rubbish” in this light, and must be, to guard against hope in a “righteousness of our own” instead of “faith in Christ.”
In such a deeply meritocractic culture, it can be so hard to believe that all the things we seek to earn count for nothing. Perhaps we seek material security because we have not yet fully appreciated just how much surpassing value Christ has. May we fall in love with the inestimable and absolute love of God displayed in Christ, and regard all else as loss!
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Khahlamba – The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Grace Episcopal Church, Ocala, Fla.