If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Paul’s little letter to the Philippians may be one of your best options for Biblical reading in these days of pandemic. Paul has every reason to be sour and unhappy. He is in prison. He has enemies who using this time of his imprisonment to self-promote, Paul admits that the authorities might execute him, and even his friend and helper, Epaphroditus, has grown grievously ill. But Paul is joyful. How can that be? Or perhaps and more importantly, how can I have that sort of durable joy which just would not be extinguished in Paul? 

Do you see what Paul is doing in this reading? Look closely at the first paragraph. Paul says his whole life lived without Christ is rubbish, trash to be taken away to the dump. Paul no longer lives in the middle of his universe. That spot has been taken by someone else. Now Paul revolves like a satellite around Jesus. He is caught in Christ’s gravity and he strains upward to Jesus. Jesus is his sun and source. Even if they kill Paul, they have not extinguished the light of his life. That light belongs to Jesus and it cannot be extinguished. Because Paul shines with that reflected light, Paul also cannot be really extinguished. 

Do you find yourself feeling down and perhaps a little sorry for yourself today? It can happen. It happens to me too. I find that when I get like that, if I take stock of myself, I am usually being very self-centered. I have allowed myself to resume my normal but sinful place in the center of my world. The best way to have Paul’s joy is to displace my ego from the middle of my world. And the best way to do that is to serve with love someone other than myself. Jesus is found today in the needy person in your life. Put Jesus and that other person first. You will find that the joy which Paul expresses in this letter is possible for you too, even in these days of anxiety and pandemic. Call a friend to see how they are doing, serve a neighbor, forgetting what is behind, strain to what is right in front of you. You will lose focus on your fear and sadness and might be very surprised to find that it has been replaced with an irrepressible joy.