The imitation of Christ. What does it even look like? Is it even achievable?
I have been pondering this as I watch the reaction of people worldwide to the recent terror attacks in Paris. So many, Christians included, want revenge, to strike back, to punish. So much so that they can't wait to punish Syrian refugees, who are innocent and helpless, all because they look a little like the attackers, and share a version of their religion. But (aside from the call to help the hungry, naked and homeless) part of the teaching of Christ is divesting oneself of the means of revenge. If you truly believe, as I believe Jesus did, that "Vengeance is mine," (Deuteronomy 32:35) then any attempt to get even with one's enemies is plainly godless and wrong.
Jesus, in line with the hymn quoted in Philippians above, did not empty himself of the perquisites to divine power, only to grasp the power at the disposal of human beings. His teachings line up extremely well with the stance of divesting ourselves of ALL power -- personal, religious and political. In Jesus's vision, the only power that would be exercised would be God's power, and in God's time.
This is not, properly speaking, a pacifist attitude. It does not begin with the desire for peace. It is an attitude that places all power and authority with God. If God wants peace, peace will come. But if God wants war, war will arrive.
In the gospels, Jesus did not accept power, even when it was voluntarily granted to him. Even when he could have achieved justice.
It says quite a lot when the Son of God, the one to Judge of the living and the dead, would pass even on the opportunity to address a minor local dispute!
So what might it look like if we were to move in the direction that Christ taught? What behaviors or attitudes would we have to learn or taken on?
"Raqa" is probably a mild insult -- along the words of "dope" or "moron" -- something that was so common as too be almost toothless. That Jesus uses this very mild retort--spoken casually between siblings in a family situation--as morally equivalent to a crime worthy of the attention of the highest court in the land, says a great deal about the degree to which power, be it the power to wound or the power to dominate, had no place for him.
If we are to be more like Jesus, here's what we need to reduce or eliminate:
The need to dominate. We seek to dominate through verbal intimidation. By speaking louder than the other guy. By not given another the opportunity to speak. By yelling. By threatening violence, loss or withdrawal of love. By using transgressive language like obscenities and sacrilege. We dominate by performing or by implying violence. By making angry faces. or gestures. By pouting. By withdrawing into impervious silence. By bullying. By inciting others to violence. By discriminating. By exiling, imprisoning and torturing.
The need to mold events in our own favor. We manipulate others to do our will. We out-and-out lie. We tell half truths. We withhold information. We use physical and economic violence to force people to do our will. We bribe. We play mind games. We legislate unfairly. We publish untruthfully.
We seek "justice" on our own terms. We bargain to get the best outcome or to avoid a bad one. We seek revenge on those who have wronged us. We steal from those who have stolen from us. We blacken the names of our enemies. We assassinate character. We spread rumors to compensate for injuries. We retaliate -- killing or injuring those who killed or injured us or our allies. We ethnically cleanse. We commit genocide.
To rid ourselves of all power is not easy. It might not even be possible in this world. For instance, imprisoning a mass murderer is not done to show the offender how powerful we are, but to prevent him from hurting others. Yet there are surely many places and times where an exercise of power is not required to maintain safety and prevent the loss of life or property:
- The person who takes over every conversation
- The one who makes underhanded insults
- The one who enjoys the perks that comes with a position of authority
- The one who dreams of violent revenge
- The one who uses money to buy improved service
The list is endless.
It's no surprise that Jesus preached that his followers would have to become the servants of all. He upbraided them when they showed pretensions to lordship over others. He came to show a new way -- a way of radical powerlessness. And he maintained his stance to the end -- all the way to the cross.
A man who refuses even to call upon God to destroy his executioners is a man who took seriously his rejection of power in all its forms. May we begin the journey to approach rejection of power in our own lives.