God as self-emptying love, foreshadowed in the Old Testament and described by Paul, reaches its climax in Matthew’s Gospel.
The divine and how it should be defined is revealed first through the book of creation, then through our human relationships, and lastly, it is recorded in Scripture as story, myth, legend, tribal memory, law, ritual, history, poetry and much else. In this story in the book of Kings, of simple hospitality and a woman’s thoughtfulness in providing for a holy man, there lies the undercurrent of the belief that there is no such thing as chance or accident. Everything breathes of the presence of the Divine in all our relations and especially in all that is fruitful. It speaks of the desire of God that humanity ‘has a smile on its face’. So, a childless woman is promised a child. The goodness of human hospitality is portrayed as being repaid by the goodness of God, through human agents, making human love fruitful. This appears to be the meaning of the story – more than any message of fortune-telling.
Paul rhapsodises about the effects of the death of Christ. As in the story from Kings, but now written on a cosmic canvas, God is defined as the one on the side of life. This time it’s in terms which redefine all previous definitions of what we mean by God, humanity, life and death. Paul resets the whole cosmology of where human evolution and destiny is played out. When folk first heard this new cosmology and theology, they must surely have reacted with increasing incredulity. ‘This cannot be true!’ Paul could only come to these realisations by virtue of his experience of the risen Christ. Humanity has died with Christ, but since Christ has returned to life, raised by the Father’s glory, humanity is destined to return with him to new life in God! Simple! Paul stood every previous construct of what it might mean to be a human being on its head. Henceforth humanity has had access to a new vision of its destiny. And this vision is life-affirming in a way that previous generations could only guess at in the shadows. Then a woman’s generosity is rewarded by the gift of new life. Now the generosity of the emptying out of the love of God in Christ leads all humanity to eternal life in God! Did Paul ever stop to wonder at his own conclusions!
The logic of the revelation of God as self-emptying love, foreshadowed in the Old Testament and described so beautifully by Paul, in Matthew’s account of some instructions of Jesus, reaches its climax. The most important commitment humanity can make goes beyond family and the protection of our small selves. If God self-empties in vulnerable action, then this must carry the key to where our priorities and commitment must lie. God is revealed as the one who loves even if it means the ‘death of God’. Our destiny and fulfilment must lie in doing the same, even if it means our death. In giving ourselves to others, in welcoming others, in giving life to others, in giving a cup of water to one of the little ones, in dying to ourselves, we will find our destiny and fulfilment – our reward. The beauty of this divine logic corresponds to all that makes us human. This is the realisation which lies behind Jesus’s saying ‘The man who saves his life will lose it; the man who loses his life will save it’. We lose our lives to find them.