Join in Imitating Me
Updated: Mar 29, 2022
Second Sunday in Lent, Year C, RCL, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35 ,
“Brothers and Sisters, Join in imitating me,” is Paul’s call to his followers. This call is not so much asking us to imitate Paul but Christ. This is a call to apostleship, not discipleship. A disciple is one who follows and for this, the bar is pretty low. Anyone who follows Christ is Christ’s disciple. An apostle, on the other hand, is one who is sent. These are the ones who are sent into the world to carry on the practices and teachings of Christ. Imitators if you will. Apostles are the examples that we can look to or that others look to. They are the people whose lives demonstrate the love of Christ. We likely know examples of these people either through history or in our own lives. Yet, an apostolic life is not an easy life. It is looking beyond our priorities of personal gain, whether this is our wallet or our stomachs, to the gain of being a citizen of heaven.
To be a citizen, in the fullest meaning of the word, is more than simply belonging to that country. To be a citizen of the United States is more than being born here or having papers that say you belong here. Citizens of this country have responsibilities and obligations, such as serving on a jury if asked, voting in elections, and respecting the authority of those who “we the people” have elected. Through this participation, we gain the fullest sense of what it means to be a citizen.
Regarding God’s kingdom, Paul says anything less than imitating these good examples of Christ, or the citizens of heaven, leads to destruction; destruction of ourselves and our souls. The reward for this work, he says, is transformation. Our body will be transformed from its current form into a body that conforms to the body of Christ’s glory, a resurrected body. I know this sounds harsh and difficult. Where is grace? Where is faith? And all of this may sound like works righteousness.
When people hear words like these it often sounds the alarm of “Good works” or “works righteousness.”
Bishop N.T. Wright says that these alarms are “scare tactics. Sometimes, it’s a political scare tactic – to stop Christians from actively working to change the way the world is, confronting justice, and building communities of peace and hope instead of ones of violence and hatred.”[i] Paul, much like James, believes that good works flow out of our faith or are the fruit of our faith. If we don’t have these good works, we likely don’t have faith.
This example Paul asks us to find comes no further away than our Gospel passage. “Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.”[ii] On this journey he healed people and told Parables. He tells us of the “Barren Fig Tree” in which we can’t expect the tree to bear fruit unless we tend to its needs.[iii] He offers us the parable of the Mustard Seed,[iv] and Yeast,[v] describing God’s kingdom growing in great ways with only a small amount of effort. And when the question arises, asking “will only a few be saved,” Jesus encourages the people to “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”[vi] All these passages come earlier in the chapter that we just read. This background is important, in part because it fits well with the Epistle reading but more importantly, it tells us why these Pharisees are trying to get rid of Jesus.
Jesus is expanding the idea of what the kingdom of Heaven is like. He is showing people that we can do more if we open our eyes, hearts, and minds. Jesus demonstrates that some of the religious authorities want to keep things the way they are resting in their comfort, with an unknown human cost. We see similar attitudes when people believe others are getting a handout or don’t deserve gifts of charity as if we can look into the heart of the benefactor or the receiver and understand their motivation. Most of us, raised in this country, are taught that we shouldn’t take handouts, that doing so is somehow demeaning. We idealize pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, as the American ethic, even though few if any people have done this all on their own. We believe that “God helps those who help themselves” even though this is not anywhere to be found in the Bible and is contrary to biblical teaching.
According to Bishop Andy Doyle, “A Christian theology teaches that we can do nothing to create an economic exchange of goodness with God for help, grace, or salvation. God in Christ Jesus does what we cannot earn, what we cannot trade, what we cannot do for ourselves. God saves when we cannot. This rejects the idea that people can do it all themselves, pull themselves up by the bootstraps, or achieve without others. The Gospel undermines our attempts to believe it is about us, that we can do it all ourselves, or that our victories are ours alone, or that our defeats are life-ending. God saves us and helps us on the cross . . . If we believe we can all do it ourselves, we reject the very core of scripture’s message - we are created for God and each other. We are saved in our inability, our failure, our sin, and brokenness by Christ.”[vii]
People who take in refugees, give to the poor, help the needy are often looked down upon by others. Even though their acts of charity are not harming anyone it makes others so uncomfortable that laws are sometimes written to impede good works. One extreme example is found in a 2012 Harris County, Texas ordinance which prevents people from sharing food with the homeless in public.[viii]
Jesus healed the unworthy, taught new ways of looking at God’s Kingdom, and told the religious authority that they were hypocrites. All of this made the religious authorities want to get rid of him. They said, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” But Jesus knows this is a bluff. These Pharisees just want him to stop what he is doing and head away from the temple. But Jesus will continue his work, steadily moving closer to Jerusalem, closer to the temple, closer to Herod – who never kills him, and closer to the cross and our salvation.
The cross may be the end of Jesus’ ministry, but it is the beginning of ours. It is where we find the ability to imitate the life of Christ in our own lives. It is where we become the example of Christ to others by the actions we do.
[i] Let It Flow Out: An Interview with N. T. Wright, Blog / Produced by The High Calling, https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/blog/let-it-flow-out-interview-n-t-wright#.VNEZ8l7F_Jk
[ii] Luke 13:22 NRSV
[iii] Luke 13:6-9
[iv] Luke 13:18-19
[v] Luke 13:20-21
[vi] Luke 13:22-30
[vii] C. Andrew Doyle – Bishop of Texas, Facebook “A Lenten thought” March 9, 2022