How not to imitate Christ

What does it mean to “imitate Christ”? The answer to that can range from a literal crucifixion, through legalism, to “putting on the mind of Christ.”

Some people think imitating Christ is about a literal crucifixion.

Crucifixion in the Philippines is a devotional practice held every Good Friday as part of the local observance of Holy Week. Devotees are willingly crucified in imitation of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death, while related practices include carrying wooden crosses, crawling on rough pavement, and self-flagellation. (These customs are strongly discouraged by the Catholic Church in the Philippines, which considers them to be fanatical, superstitious expressions.)

The Exodus was supposed to be an occasion to remember God’s goodness to the Israelites when they were in slavery. The Sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy is about remembering their slavery and showing gratitude to God for redeeming them… translating that memory and redemption into treating others with kindness and generosity– especially those who are weak and vulnerable, as the Israelites once were. Unfortunately, what happened through the centuries was a focus on the details of how it was celebrated. See the ritual laws of Leviticus 1–6 and Numbers 1–10.

For the Pharisees being good was about “getting it right.” And getting it right meant strict adherence to the more than 600 laws They got lost in the details of the law. The 10 commandments somehow expanded to over 600. We know Jesus’ attitude toward the Pharisees. Matthew 15 and Mark 7.

The above approaches to living a “good life” in the eyes of God miss the point.

What Vincent got right and why he got it right.

Centuries ago a Japanese poet, Basho, observed: “I do not wish to imitate what the great ones of the past did. I would rather seek what they sought.” Vincent sought what Jesus sought… to bring good news to the poor!

Vincent believed that bringing good news to the of poor does not simply consist of proclaiming the truths of faith but rather consists of acting in the way that Jesus acted, making visible the signs foretold by the prophets: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them (Luke 4:18).

Why? It was only in his mid 30’s that Vincent seemed to take scripture seriously. He allowed himself to be influenced and guided by the story of Jesus Christ… and the stories he told. He saw himself in the stories of the scriptures. He tried to do what he thought Christ would do if he had faced the situations he faced.

For example, he looked at the kind of people Jesus associated with…

  • ‘the immoral’ (prostitutes and sinners) ‘the marginalized’ (lepers and sick people)
  • ‘heretics’ (Samaritans and pagans)
  • ‘collaborators’ (publicans and soldiers)
  • ‘the weak’ and ‘the poor’ (who have neither power nor knowledge)

Is it surprising then that Vincent was concerned about the same people? I suspect this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

Vincent sought to “follow Jesus the Evangelizer of the poor” by thinking and acting like the Jesus he experienced in the Gospels.

Food for thought

  • Do I ever read the Gospels at home?
  • Do I imagine myself loving the people Jesus loved?
  • Do I seek what Jesus sought… to bring good news to the poor?

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