Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 27: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, September 16, 2020


Ez 18:25-28; Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

Most of us will remember that back in the 1990s, a popular form of Christian piety promoted the saying, “What would Jesus do?” You can still search Amazon under this heading and find a mind-boggling array of bracelets, jewelry and T-shirts emblazoned with “WWJD?”

The saying originated with a popular book written in 1897 by a New York Congregationalist minister and social activist named Charles Monroe Sheldon titled, “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?” Some claim that Sheldon himself was inspired by the German medieval theologian and mystic Thomas a Kempis who wrote “The Imitation of Christ,” one of the most popular devotional books of its era, which is still being published today.

At stake in each of these is the idea that authentic Christians follow the example of Jesus when faced with an ethical dilemma. While credit should be given to Sheldon and his medieval counterpart Thomas a Kempis, the reading this Sunday from Paul’s letter to the Philippians tells us that the idea of imitating Christ was a central message of the New Testament itself.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus summons his first disciples and tells them, “Come, follow me.” The underlying rationale of all four Gospels is that in the teaching and example of Jesus we find the way to authentic Christian life.

In fact, one could push this motif even further back into the Old Testament. Striving to the do the will of God is at the heart of Jewish practice, then and now. 

Today’s first reading from Ezekiel deals with following the “way of the Lord” as the way to life. The responsorial Psalm 25 prays in the same mode: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.”

Jesus’ parable of the two sons in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew is in the same key about doing God’s will. When a father asks his first son to work in the vineyard, the first son refuses, but later regrets his response and goes out and works in the vineyard. The father poses the same question to his second son, who says he will, but fails go out and do the work. “Which of the two,” Jesus asks his opponents, “did his father’s will?” “The first,” they concede. Then Jesus drives his point home: “Amen I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you … because they believed.”

A criticism of the WWJD movement is that it is oversimplifies things. After all, asking “What would Jesus do?” might not readily supply an answer to some of the complex moral dilemmas we face today in medical ethics or economic policy. But the question itself is appropriate for a Christian to ask. The challenge is to go deep enough into the spirit of Jesus’ actions for the answer. 

Paul the apostle does that today in the powerful reading from Philippians. In the face of deep divisions in this community, Paul pleads for reconciliation: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” 

To seal his earnest pleas, Paul cites his own version of “What would Jesus do?”: “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. … He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

For Paul, the most profound imitation of Christ was to take on a love like his, one that transcended oneself for the sake of the other. This profound generosity of spirit is at the heart of “What Jesus would do?” As Pope Francis has so eloquently said, “Life is found in giving it away.”



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