She did not realize she was teaching me about systemic change. But she did… even though it took years for me to realize it. She taught me that the Incarnation is the greatest systemic change in our history.
“Don’t make me come down and show you!”
To this day I recall my mother saying “Don’t make me come in and show you.” Perhaps this flashback came because I had just read the following story.
A few years ago I was trying to help my friend put together a new cabinet in the basement of her new house. She was upstairs unpacking something else, so when I called up asking her how a certain piece was supposed to connect, she started calling down directions. After several minutes of frustration with minimal success, my friend said, “Never mind, I’ll just come down and show you.”
Incarnation – God coming down to show us
That got me thinking about the systemic change modeled by the Incarnation. The passage in Hebrews 1:1-2 immediately came to mind:
“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe.
This passage says to me God has been calling down directions for millennia!
(That led to another realization, actually a question. Did the Word become flesh, suffer and die to change God’s mind or to change our minds? After all, God has first loved us! Even when we were furthest away. The more I thought about it the more I realized Jesus came to change our minds, not God’s!)
Jesus calls us to a systemic change in our way of thinking!
What was his basic message? “Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand.” The root meaning of the Greek word metanoia is change, change your way of thinking. Philippians 2:5 says it clearly. “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus!” Jesus spelled it out even more clearly. “I am the Way!” “I have come to bring good news to the poor. (Luke 4). “Whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me. (Mt. 25), He came to teach us that we are all sons and daughters called to live as a Trinitarian community.
The Word became flesh to show us what God’s message and way of thinking looks like when lived humanly. Jesus is the living model of world-changing systemic change.
The change Jesus calls us to
Jesus is the model of living in the kingdom of God. We need only look at the lessons of his life and death. “Do this in memory of me!” “Wash one another’s feet as I have washed yours.” This is putting on the mind of Christ. How different this mind is from the mind of the world that implicitly lives by “a me-first mentality,” grasping power, comfort and security.
Vincent had his own practical way of expressing this systemic change of our way of thinking. “Let us love God, brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows” We have many contemporary ways of saying it. Among them, “Put your money where your mouth is!”
When will we really buy into the systemic change of thinking Jesus came to show us?
Food for thought
- Do I understand the Incarnation as God coming among us to teach us how to live in the Kingdom?
- Do I understand the Incarnation as a call to put on the mind of Christ?
- How willing am I to radically change my way of thinking?
John, this is a great article! Really wonderful. I want to show it to our local SVdP conference.