Go beyond admiration to imitation

Complete the circle
By George Evans
As we continue our journey in faith with the Lord there are times when familiar words of Scripture jump off the page and grab us anew. Mt. 9:9, known as the Call of Mathew, recently did that to me. Jesus “saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” What an extraordinary event. A hated tax collector hears a call from an emerging Jewish leader, leaves his livelihood and follows an itinerant preacher, preserving for us his Gospel including the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.
The other apostles were similarly called, perhaps not as dramatically as Matthew, but called by Jesus to follow him. They too responded to the call. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus and that can be hard. We spend our life trying as best we can to do it. Jesus himself tells us what’s required. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:38) Our cross can be many different things: death of a loved one, incapacitating illness, financial insecurity, etc. Jesus challenges us to embrace our cross, whatever it may be, as he did his, and then be open to his help. He showed us graphically in accepting his passion and crucifixion. Our cross cannot be more demanding. Whatever it is, he will be there to help us.
Taking up our cross may sound overwhelming. A recent retreat master helped me wrestle with this concept. His point was that Jesus only asks us to follow him. He suggested that Jesus repeatedly asked those he called in the gospels to follow him. He never asked them to admire him. Jesus does not let us off the hook.
It is easy to admire someone from a distance. We do it all the time. Think of the baseball, football or basketball player that makes an acrobatic play and we sit back and admire it and wish that we could have done something like it. It would have been easy for the apostles to have admired Jesus and his incredible miracles and parables. But Jesus would not let them get away with just admiration. After training them he sent them forth two by two into the towns and villages to follow, to teach and heal as he had taught them. He taught them to imitate him not to simply admire him.
The United States Catholic Bishops add to this theology: To choose the road to discipleship is to dispose oneself for a share in the cross. It is not enough to believe with one’s mind; a Christian must also be a doer of the word, a wayfarer with a witness to Jesus.
The follower, the disciple then must not only admire but imitate Jesus. When Jesus asks Peter three times after the Resurrection if he loved him Peter answered that he did. Then Jesus told him three times to do something: feed my lambs and tend my sheep. (Jn21:15-24). It wasn’t enough for Peter to proclaim his love for Jesus. Like Peter, we must do something to be his follower. We must imitate Jesus, not just admire him.
It must start with Sunday Mass, the sacraments and prayer. Then imitate Jesus in ministering to his lambs and sheep: visit the sick, the dying, the lonely, the imprisoned; help with parish programs and schools; feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty (Mt 25), advocate for the poor and marginalized; welcome the immigrant and refugee; comfort those who seem to be left out. I name only a few ways to imitate and follow Jesus. Add your own ways. Any time you bring Jesus to another person in service of any kind then you have imitated Jesus and lifted your cross.
Fr. Ron Rohlheiser in the May, 20, 2005 edition of Mississippi Catholic adds a profound closing to my thoughts:
“We see – but we don’t see! We feel for the poor – but we don’t really feel for them! – We reach out – but we never reach across. The gap between the rich and poor is in fact widening, not narrowing. It’s widening worldwide, between nations. and it’s widening inside of virtually every culture.
The rich are becoming richer and the poor are being left ever further behind. Almost all the economic boom of the last 20 years has sent its windfall straight to the top, benefitig those who already have the most.
What Jesus asks of us is simply that we see the poor, that we do not let affluence become a narcotic that knocks out our eyesight. Riches aren’t bad and poverty isn’t beautiful. But nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.”
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister and member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)