The Gift of Emptiness

We are our own worst enemies.  It’s said a lot.  But how so, and why?  What can we do differently to keep from being the interference, the static, between ourselves and God?

Scripture: Matthew 16:21-26

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Background on the Text:

  1. This text begins another major section of the Gospel of Matthew. In this section Jesus encounters increasing resistance to his ministry, and lays out in detail the alternative community that he wishes his disciples would build.
  2. In the Gospel of Matthew, this is the first time Jesus explains how he will live out his calling as messiah. Jesus will do this three times more.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. This passage is full of paradoxes. The first paradox is that the one who will “save” the people will actually die himself.
  2. The second paradox is that while Peter tries to save Jesus from harm, what he says actually interferes with the mission of Jesus, which involves harm.
  3. Then the main paradox occurs: saving one’s life will result in losing one’s life.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. The idea of emptying oneself to be filled by something else is called kenosis. In Philippians 2, Paul says that “Christ emptied himself.”  Another way to look at this is that Jesus relinquished his will so that he could be filled with the will of God.  Have you emptied yourself to be filled by God?
  2. To die to self (to lose one’s life) is required to live the life God intended for us. But being “emptied” is not always a pleasant experience.  What do you have trouble letting go of in your ego self?
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