Perhaps it was youthful exuberance.
Perhaps it was a core thought and belief.
I'm not sure.
While attending a recent worship service, we were summarily dismissed with the following words or something similar:
Go into the world! Be an example of Jesus!
The one dismissing us changed the wording in the bulletin which read this or something similar:
Go into the world following the example of Jesus!
Roughly a year or so ago, I'd not have given such a thing a second thought. Roughly a year or so ago, I would have heartily done the exact same thing without reservation. But now, I'm not so sure.
BE an example of Jesus.
How does one do that?
Now, if we are supposed to be great moral teachers expounding on what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves or teaching time and again what it means to treat others as we wish to be treated, then I suppose BEING an example of Jesus wouldn't be to difficult a thing to accomplish. It's pretty easy to go around telling others what they should be doing.
But is that the sum and substance of what Jesus was about? Was Jesus just an example of what it means to live with God and with one another?
As I read through the Gospels, I see Jesus wearing multiple hats. First, He was a healer--and not just in the physical sense. Yes, He cured diseases. It was an integral part of His ministry. But those healings had a greater significance. They also were about wholeness--the healing of one's entire being.
In Jesus' day, if you were sick, then folks thought it was because something you had done to deserve it. God was punishing you. Illness not only carried a social stigma--no one wanted to be around a sick person; it also carried a religious stigma--you were on the outs with God. When Jesus healed someone, He literally was showing God loved that person and had forgiven them. It was a complete restoration of body, mind, soul, and community. This is the healing Jesus offered then. Am I capable of providing such healing?
Hardly. I am far too limited in my abilities to do such a thing. God has not granted me those kinds of healing capabilities. As far as I know, I haven't really seen anyone who has the kind of healing capacity Jesus showed in the Gospel Narratives. The only one who can bring that kind of healing, in my estimation, is Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus led with grace every time He encountered someone who was not of the religious establishment. That's important in my estimation. Every time He encountered someone the world had labeled "sinner", Jesus offered healing, salvation, hope, and even literal life saving. Now, when He encountered the religious establishment, He kicked tail and took names. He knew the difference between the two groups.
I'm not too sure I have that capability. I like to tell folks how it "should" be. I like to tell folks what they should be doing--regardless of where they are in life. I don't like offering them love and compassion and grace right off the bat. That costs me something. They might not reciprocate. They might thumb their nose at me in the long run. They might abuse my niceness. I'm guarded. Plain and simple.
Jesus wasn't guarded. He bestowed grace and healing. He gave people wholeness and then asked them to respond. He didn't expect them to do anything first. He acted first and then asked for obedience. It's just too darn easy to do things the opposite way.
Thirdly, Jesus' main purpose was the reconciliation of the world with God. There really is no need to delve deeply into this one in this post. Such a thing can only be accomplished by God and I can't eve come close to that example.
BE an example of Jesus! How? Is it even possible?
I don't think it is.
This is why I believe Christianity isn't about what we do. We can't do what Jesus did unless we are simply trying to tell everyone else what to do. And if we take this approach, well, then, we will get nailed by the "do as I say and not as I do" crowd. For if we preach the life Jesus called us to live and we cannot live it....
Grace leads me to follow Jesus with the knowledge I do it imperfectly. Grace leads me to strive to walk in His footsteps as best as I can knowing I'll never even come close. Grace leads me to strive to imitate Jesus knowing I will stumble and fall long before I accomplish such a task.
Before I encourage anyone to be an example of Jesus, I'm going to make darn sure that person knows the grace of Jesus. Only He can orient a heart to follow Him.