Weird word, I know. Greek. Not even the Scripture scholars know how to translate it. It shows up in Paul's famous canticle of the humbled and exalted Christ.
Here in the State of Illinois our political circumstances can shed light on what St. Paul was talking about.
You may have heard that less than a month ago our Governor was arrested for attempting to auction off President-Elect Obama's seat in the US Senate. In a brazen and brilliant move, the Governor (who is still in office, though talk of impeachment floats in and out of the news) appointed a bland but incredibly self-assured wanna-be to Obama's old seat. And that appointee was not ashamed, even under those circumstances, to snatch the opportunity for his own advancement. (This is a man who has already built a towering monument for himself, listing his various political offices with room to engrave just one more...) Now there is a game of chicken going on in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol, where the appointee insists on taking the empty Illinois seat, unaware of what a pitifully ridiculous figure he is in that grasping ambition.
Jesus, Paul said, "did not deem equality with God a thing to be 'grasped at', but emptied himself...and became obedient even to death on a cross."
We still may not be able to translate "harpagmos," but here in Illinois, we can see it in action. And that makes St. Paul just a little clearer.