29 October 2012

Be imitators of God

30th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Brothers and sisters, be imitators of God. . .as [His] beloved children. . .live as children of light!” Now, either Paul thinks very highly of the Christians in Ephesus and decides to praise them; or, he figures that they're a hopeless cause anyway so he might well set the bar as high as he can. Be imitators of God? Living as children of the light is tough enough, but living as imitators of God? That seems. . .ummm. . .extreme, even for Paul. Not known for his restraint when it comes to preaching the Good News and living the gospel, even Paul would have to admit that creatures—especially rational creatures—would do well to set their spiritual goals a little closer to “being good” and not so close to “being God.” Of course, he's not suggesting that we go off into the void and create a universe from nothing; or populate a planet using nothing but dirt and a rib; or terrorize a slave-owning tyrant with ten deadly plagues. Basically, all he's saying is that we should imitate—in our impeccably imperfect fashion—all those divine attributes in which God excels—love, mercy, compassion. Maybe, just maybe, Paul isn't being so unreasonable after all. 

Paul opens this section of his letter with an admonition: “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” That should sound familiar to those who pray the Our Father on occasion. He continues with this blockbuster: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. . .” So, as the well-loved children of God, we are admonished to imitate God's moral excellence as only those who have given themselves to Him as children can do. Then he writes, “Live in love.” How? “As Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering. . .” We live in Christ's love by imitating the love that led him to offer himself in sacrifice for our sins. This can only mean one kind of love: agape. That kind of love that demands personal sacrifice. To make sure that we all understand that he's being deadly serious here, Paul adds, “Immorality, impurity, greed must not even be mentioned among you. . .no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk.” When we speak, it should be to give God thanks. Thanks for what exactly? For showing us how to love one another in sacrifice; to love one another as Christ does, to the point of surrendering our lives to make one another holy. 

Paul's admonishment that we live as imitators of God would be ridiculous if we had to do so out of our own moral goodness. Our fallen human nature bends us to self-preservation rather than generosity. But it's not out of our fallen nature that we think, speak, and behave. We are dead to this world but risen with Christ. As such, we are both human and divine—imperfectly so, just yet—but nonetheless participants in the dual nature of Christ as his adopted brothers and sisters. We can imitate Christ. Without him we can do nothing good. Since we do good things all the time, we know that we must do those good things with him. When we love, we participate in Love Himself. When we are merciful, we participate in Mercy Himself. When we show compassion, we participate in Compassion Himself. Every single time we imperfectly think, speak, or behave like Christ, we participate in Christ himself. We were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. What light we shine comes from Christ through us. And that's the job we vowed to do: to be living, breathing lamps for the light of Christ in a world of darkness. So, as beloved children, go, be imitators of God! 

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  1. Pretty good! I always worry when I come across phrases such as "be imitators of God". Not that I even considered that I should go out and create something out of nothing! But the thought of loving, being merciful and forgiving and compassionate as God is...phew! My perfectionist streak kicks in, and I am glad to be reminded that: "Every single time we imperfectly think, speak, or behave like Christ, we participate in Christ himself." Imperfect perfection... :-)

    Oh, and I also liked "be living, breathing lamps for the light of Christ in a world of darkness." What a cool image.

    1. I think perfectionists feel God's lure to His perfection more acutely than others. The trick is to work at being perfection while at the same time realizing that perfection in this life isn't possible.

    2. So how did you just make me feel completely understood in the span of two sentences?!? Are you really that good?

    3. Sinners think alike, my dear!

  2. Second paragraph was one of those worth reading aloud...