Losses can be problematic; whether it is a person we love, a possession or something more nebulous, there is a grief process to work through, and a letting go, even if the loss is something we acknowledge as necessary. It may come as something of a surprise, therefore, to learn how much that he could be proud of, Paul actually viewed as a loss. Read the list in Philippians 3: so much of what most of us would count as our identity, Paul saw as a loss – because what is truly of worth is Jesus the messiah. Knowing Christ Jesus is worth counting everything else on the loss side of the equation, rather than the plus; through following Jesus, Paul has lost everything – he counts it all as rubbish, because what matters is knowing Jesus, being found in him. His status is now rooted in Jesus, in the righteousness that comes from Jesus, rather than from any kind of righteousness that he may have felt he earned.
But what of us? Do we see the subject in this way? Or do we hoard some of our own righteousness, in the hopes that we can come before God saying ‘here I am’? God already knows who we are and what we do; but who are we doing it for? Who are we for? Ourselves – or God? Everything that might give Paul confidence, he counts as loss. All we are and have and do are Yours, Lord; everything else is loss. What do you take pride in? What do I take pride in? (and am I really going to confess to that on the internet??). Well, probably not. But one thing you all know anyway is that I am a Sister. It would be so easy to make this an important part of my identity, how I see myself, to have confidence because look, this is how I’ve dedicated myself to God. Paul says no; that’s not what is important. It is knowing Jesus that is important; it is the status given us from God which is important. This means knowing Jesus through his suffering, death and resurrection (see Philippians 3: 10-14). What I am, as a Sister, is not a source of pride, or of justification before God, but merely part of my own response before God’s love of me, of us; and part of the way I myself run for the finishing post, however imperfectly.
It is more difficult than it seems, sometimes, to count things as loss. It’s so much easier to ‘own’ them, to fill up the empty space inside with who we are or what we have, rather than with God. Take the parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard (see Matthew 21:33-46). They refused to give the landowner what was rightly his; they even killed his son, thinking they would inherit the vineyard. It seems to me that they saw the vineyard as theirs, even though it wasn’t. They ‘owned’ it, and therefore could not see that they were behaving badly. The landowner was far away, they had put the work in, so (although presumably there was an agreement giving the landowner a share of the produce), they refused to give him anything. It was theirs, and by killing the heir, they thought they would inherit; that the vineyard would become legally theirs, as they already owned it in their own eyes. In that ‘owning’ they refused to see that they were possessing something that wasn’t theirs; and, in that refusal, presumably lost out on even the part of the vineyard that was truly ‘theirs’. It is in ‘owning’ that we place ourselves in danger, it is ‘owning’ that means we cannot give Jesus his true place in our lives, because we cannot see where we are in relation to Jesus, our King.
We are not our own, we are God’s; we were not placed on this earth to build our own little kingdoms, but God’s kingdom; every piece that we place in ‘our’ kingdom is actually a loss, for it takes us away from God’s kingdom, from what we could receive from our Messiah Jesus. Yet remember, even Paul, who spent so much of his life spreading the word, doesn’t think that he’s already got there; he is still racing for the finish. To spend some time, every now and then, looking at what we ‘own’ and whether we see it as loss or gain would not be time badly spent. None of us have reached the finishing line, and no doubt there will always be plenty more that we can place on ‘loss’ side of the equation, in order to give more room for Jesus on the ‘plus’ side. For our faith is about letting go of all that gets in the way between us and our God, so that gradually, slowly, we may become less ours and more and more given to God.