For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 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. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-9)
Paul reverts to slang in this passage in order to shock his readers into attention. Paul thought nothing was more important than Christ crucified and resurrected. His courage in proclaiming the Gospel is obvious. He is proclaiming to the world that a man conidered a criminal by the Romans was crucified and is now Lord and Messiah—a most radical claim. For Paul nothing is more important than faith in the Risen Christ whom he proclaims as Messiah, the One who fulfills the promise of Israel.
The translation above says he counts all things as rubbish. Fr. Thomas Keating, Trappist monk from Snowmass taught us long ago that the Greek word for rubbish is really a slang word for fecal matter—dung to put it more politely. The NET Bible translator’s note reads:
The word here translated as “dung” was often used in Greek as a vulgar term for fecal matter. As such it would most likely have had a certain shock value for the readers. That may well be Paul’s meaning here, especially since the context is about what the flesh produces.(2294)
We must also remember, as Paul shocks us, that “flesh” is not our bodies. Flesh is all that is not of God. Merton changed the terminology to bring out its true meaning. Flesh is the false self—again, all that is not of God. All that is of the flesh is s___, to use the English vulgar term.
The true self is that which is aligned with God and God’s ways. In New seeds of Contemplation, Merton wrote:
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy. My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.
Like Paul, Merton was focused on Christ crucified and risen:
Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability, or human resources. If I trust in You, everything else will be for me strength, health, and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust in you everything will be to my destruction. (Thoughts in Solitude, 29-30)
For Merton, like Paul, everything is rubbish expect to imitate Christ the Lord. Merton takes Paul’s hymn in Philippians 2 to heart. For Merton, kenosis is the key to living the contemplative life. Emptying ourselves of everything enables us to sing with Paul and Merton:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in you that was£ in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus, Paul and Merton call us to radical discipleship. They call us to consider all as rubbish and to focus our eyes on the prize-resurrected life here and now in Christ Jesus.