When I was younger, I looked up to a lot of people. I wanted to be just like them—I would wear the same clothes as certain celebrities or watch the same shows and listen to the same music as my friends. I wanted to emulate the things that I liked the most about those people. When I became a Christian as a teenager, my desires changed. I wanted to be more like Christ, and I tried to figure out what that meant by reading scripture.
I read passages such as this one, where Paul’s fervor and zeal for Christ is especially palpable. He asserts how deeply he wants to know Christ. For him, one way of knowing Christ is emulating Christ. One of the things Paul names is “becoming like him in his death” with the hope that he would also be able to attain resurrection. He sees attaining this as a future goal that Christ will secure for him. In the time that these letters were written, this resurrection was seen as happening imminently.
It’s important for us to remember that Jesus’ death was strongly political. Crucifixion was a means of death reserved for political insurrectionists and criminals and was meant to be an especially humiliating and public way to die. When Paul says, “I want to die like him,” he is saying he too wants to have a life and a cause worth dying for—a cause rooted in grace and inclusion of the marginalized.
Let us slow down as we read Paul’s words so we can really absorb the depth of what he is saying. What would it look like for us to press on toward this goal, to be so radically rooted in love that we are willing to die for it?
Loving God, help me to be brave and bold in my love for you and for my neighbor. Empower me to be more like Christ, willing to risk all for the cause of love. Amen.
A common theme this week is the danger of self-absorption. When we are young, we may struggle to understand the importance of rules because we think that our individual freedom is the highest good. God gives the Israelites commandments to guide their relationships with God and others. These laws will help them thrive because God knows what is best for us. The psalmist understands this: The laws of the Lord are good and sweet. Self-absorption might also lead to pride. Paul shows that a true understanding of the gospel means laying aside our rights in the knowledge that God will reward us. In a parable about the rejection of the prophets and Jesus, servants seek to seize a vineyard for themselves, unwisely ignoring that the owner will eventually reclaim what is his.
Read Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20. Recall your earliest experiences with the Ten Commandments. How do they continue to shape your understanding of God’s expectations?
Read Psalm 19. How does the natural world call you to follow God?
Read Philippians 3:4b-14. Whom do you emulate? What would it mean for you to emulate Christ in life and in death?
Read Matthew 21:33-46. When have you participated in or witnessed the rejection of one who could be God in disguise? How might things be different if you had recognized that person as a potential cornerstone of your community?
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