The Jesus We Are Called to Imitate

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NRSV)

One thing I love about the faith journey is how a perception and understanding of Jesus can change over the years, even though He stays the same. He simply reveals Himself by layers. 

The Jesus I met when I was a child was the powerful Jesus. Through Sunday school and church, I learned about the powerful Son of God, who walked on water, calmed storms, and raised the dead. 

Then, just before adolescence, I met the benevolent Jesus, and learned that I could have a relationship with Him. At first, I couldn’t imagine why the powerful Jesus would trouble Himself over someone like me, but I grew to learn that His power and benevolence are inextricably linked. His love is for everyone, I learned, including me.

But it wasn’t until I was a young adult, that I began to meet human Jesus. That's also when I met Barrington Bunny. 

Barrington is the title character in a short story by Martin Bell from his collection of Gospel retellings, The Way of the Wolf. Barrington is a lone rabbit hopping through the forest one cold Christmas Eve. He searches for companionship among the other animals, but finds that he doesn’t belong. He can’t climb to visit with the squirrels or swim to be with the beavers. Lonely and despondent, he can only hop back to his home. 

On the way, he meets a beautiful silver wolf who reminds him of the gifts he’s been given as a bunny: his warm fur and ability to hop. He also reminds Barrington that all the animals are his family. Barrington accepts the wolf’s wisdom and sets off to give his own gifts to his animal family. 

As he is finishing his Christmas errands, he discovers a little lost field mouse shivering in the snow. Barrington covers the mouse with his fur and keeps him safe and warm through the night, rejoicing that he is a soft, warm bunny and that all the animals are his family. The next morning, the little mouse’s family is so glad to find him, that they don’t notice the bunny that has frozen to death protecting their baby mouse from the cold. 

Barrington is such a hapless little fellow, that it almost seems irreverent to think of his story as a Christ allegory. Yet, among other things, Barrington captures an important element of the human Jesus: vulnerability. The human Jesus was born in a stable and forced to flee violence at a young age. He was vilified by religious authorities and belittled by his relatives. The human Jesus pleaded with his friends to wait with him in His heartache, only to have them eventually abandon Him to ridicule and suffering. 

This Jesus can relate to the outcast, the displaced, the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. And He can connect to the lonely, dark, and broken parts in all of us.

I find it incredible to think of the powerful and benevolent Lord choosing to share our humanity, and choosing to face the cruelty of this world. And what is even more incredible is that He chose to use His humanity to love the ones that rejected Him, even to the point of sacrificing His life for them. 

Just as he elected to share our nature, He invites us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to share His as well. He enables us to love and give of ourselves to others—the lonely, the heartbroken, the outsiders, the needy, the lost, the marginalized, those that would marginalize us, those that inclination would make adversaries—and to view them as sisters and brothers. This is the Jesus we are called to imitate. 

As Advent comes to a close and Christmas approaches, I pray we are all blessed with the opportunity and will to be this Jesus to one another, and to seek Him in the faces and among the groups in which we wouldn’t expect to find Him. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Bell, Martin. The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images. The Random House Publishing Group. Copyright 1968
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