Christ Emptied Himself and Took the Form of a Slave

Christ Emptied Himself and Took the Form of a Slave


Today is Palm Sunday. Here is a link to the readings.

In the beautiful, poetic hymn used by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, we read, “Christ Jesus, though he was shutterstock_247167634in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” How astounding that God Almighty should “take the form of a slave!” Only love can explain it.

This is no endorsement of slavery, but just the opposite. Christ descended to the lowest point, according to human calculus. The slave has no freedom. The slave is nothing but chattel. The slave is used and abused, sold and silenced, overworked and executed at will. To redeem humankind, Christ relinquished all claims to divinity in a sense. He descended to the lowest place on our social ladder. He entered into our deepest suffering. “He emptied himself.” We, too often, do not.

There are still slaves in our world, and, according to the Global Slavery Index, quite a lot of them. Between 21 million and 45.8 million people live in some form of slavery worldwide (depending on whose numbers you use). Even the lower estimate is shocking. To put it in perspective, the lower number is approximately the population of Texas and the higher number is about the population of Spain. The entire population of states like California and New York, and countries like Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Poland, fall in between these estimates regarding slavery. That’s a lot of people being oppressed, dehumanized, and denied freedom in the world today.

Jesus identifies with them. We, too often, do not.

We in the United States like to think of slavery as something in the past. We regret that it happened in our own history, but at least we eradicated the problem at the cost of a Civil War. Unfortunately, we are far less likely to recognize slavery’s legacy in our midst. Socio-economic inequality and institutionalized racism exist and did not emerge out of nowhere. Suddenly the use of “we” above does not seem so appropriate. Black Americans are much more aware of the fact that history is prelude and that slavery left an enduring mark.

Jesus identifies with them. We, too often, do not.

shutterstock_410325925Slavery is most often about money. According to one report, “…modern slavery constitutes a huge illegal industry, deemed the third most profitable criminal industry behind drug and arms trafficking by the UN…”  Most of the slaves are in just five countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan; but every country on the list of 167 is implicated. Even the United States is estimated to have about 58 thousand people living in “modern slavery,” a term meaning “situations where one person has taken away another person’s freedom—their freedom to control their body, their freedom to choose to refuse certain work or to stop working—so that they can be exploited. Freedom is taken away by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power and deception. The net result is that a person cannot refuse or leave the situation.” Often the result, on the retail end, is cheaper clothing and goods on the markets in America and elsewhere… at the cost of oppression to millions of workers.

Jesus identifies with them. We, too often, do not.

Slavery is often about the business of selling sex. For example, according to the same study, “North Korean women are subjected to forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation in China and other neighbouring states.” Worldwide, the estimates on sex trafficking have a mean of about 1 million persons, but the statistics are notoriously uncertain. For instance, “In [the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, sexual exploitation was noted as by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking (79%) followed by forced labour (18%).” Different terms and definitions, in addition to the challenge of counting persons in the shadows, lead to quite varied data that even the UN is trying to sort out. Nonetheless, the numbers are staggering. Still, it doesn’t tend to affect the comfort of our everyday life in America, and so it rarely crosses our minds.

Jesus identifies with them. We, too often, do not.

shutterstock_260145929In our spiritual journeys, we have an examination of conscience to make at the beginning of every Holy Week. Are we exalting Jesus, singing Hosanna and paving His way with the palms of our praise… only to then reject Him? The crowd in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus when he was seen as a powerful prophet, but rejected him when he was a powerless criminal. They welcomed the Son of David, but crucified the slave. When we hold those palms in our hands today, we are forced to reflect on this fundamental question: will we still acclaim Jesus—will we even recognize Him—in the form of a slave? We want to climb the social ladder. We want recognition and remuneration. We want power and influence. We want prestige. But if we are followers of Christ, we need to go the route of humility. Jesus is at the very bottom rung, together with all those whom we have deemed expendable or, at very least, have ceased to even notice.

Jesus identifies with them. I hope we do too.


Editorial credit: Renata Sedmakova / for the image of Jesus riding into Jerusalem.

  • Marion Collins
    Posted at 22:34h, 11 April

    Kevin, this is your most powerful blog, to date, as you explain how Jesus emptied Himself of his Divinity and took the human likeness of a slave, even to obedience of death on the Cross.
    Certainly as you repeat, “He emptied himself, and we, too often do not” puts such an impact on your message.

    The number of slaves worldwide is staggering, being denied freedom in order to make huge amounts of money in drugs, weapons, and sex trade. In the U.S. ,many of us believed slavery was in the past but now we see it in the treatment of Blacks, Jews, Muslims and the poor among us, whom we rarely even see!

    “Jesus identifies with them. I hope we do too” during Holy Week and beyond. Can we see Jesus as a slave in His humanity or do we hold on to the image of Him riding triumphantly in Jerusalem amidst cheering crowds and waving palm branches? I pray, many of us will see the humanity of our Lord and His actions!

    Kevin, as you too repeated, I am struck by your statement, Jesus identifies with these slaves. “We, too often, do not” As you said ” Only Love can explain it”!
    Bayard, thank you once again for a whole different perspective.. much appreciated!