How NOT to Imitate Christ

by | Dec 23, 2022 | Formation, Reflections | 2 comments

In this season, as we prepare for the birth of Christ, I am reminded of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was confused when Jesus said he had to be born again (John 3). He took Jesus quite literally.

But sometimes, people today get just as confused and literal when they hear we should 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.”

Ways people try to imitate Christ today

Some people think imitating Christ is about a literal crucifixion

Crucifixion in the Philippines can involve 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. 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 fanatical, superstitious expressions.)

Others think it is about “getting things right”

This is actually not too far removed from the way many of the chosen people came to misunderstand the commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai. Over the centuries between the gift of the law and the time of Christ, a legalism set in. The ten commandments proliferated into 612 laws, not to mention countless commentaries.

For the Pharisees being good was about “getting it right.” And getting it right meant strict adherence to laws, especially those concerning diet and sacrifices. 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 imitating Christ to curry favor 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.” 

St. Vincent sought what Jesus sought… to bring good news to the poor!

Vincent believed that bringing good news to the poor does not simply consist of proclaiming the truths of faith. He believed it was acting in the way that Jesus acted, making visible the signs foretold by the prophets. Yes, dramatically, the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed. Most importantly, the poor have the good news of God’s care 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. Vincent 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 think 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

  • What has the “imitation of Christ” meant to you?
  • Do I imagine myself loving even my enemies as Jesus loved?
  • Above all, do I seek what Jesus sought… to bring good news to the poor?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk




    I personally try to be like Christ, the” Evangelizer of the poor”, through serving the poor in humility. I try to forgive people who hate, envy, or are jealous of me, because of how try to render my services to the less privileged. But, I always think about I. I pray that God will continue to strengthen me to continue to do what He created as to do, by loving Him, knowing Him, and serving Him. With God all things are possible.

  2. Louis Arceneaux

    How true, John. Blessed Christmas to you!