Saturday, November 15, 2014

Do unto others as unto Christ

A week ago I attended the Saturday night service at the church pastored by one of my seminary professors. During the sermon my professor made reference to the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. There Christ welcomes some into the kingdom while excluding others, and famously the reasoning given is this: those who are welcomed had done good to the needy, which Christ takes as having been done to him himself; those who are excluded had neglected the needy, which Christ takes as having been a neglect of him himself.

My professor then posed the question, When we see another person in need, how do we think and react? If we saw that Christ was hungry, would we not gladly give him something to eat? Or if we saw that Christ was thirsty, would we not quickly provide him with some water to sate his thirst? Or if he were naked and in need of clothing, surely we would give the shirt off of our back!

Then he posed an interesting question: If we saw that Christ himself were leading a life of reckless sin, in addiction and self-harm, how would we react?

I think the point of the question was lost on some of the persons in the audience. A person behind me answered softly, "Well, he wouldn't be doing all that anyway." I think this is an irrelevant response, however, because the real point of the question lies in considering what we would think if per impossibile we found Christ living a life of that sort.

It seems to me that, confronted with the thought of Christ living a life of (say) drug addiction, our thought in response would be this: You can't do that! This is not who you are; your identity doesn't permit you to live like this! But if we following the reasoning of finding Christ in others that is present in Matthew 25, it seems to me the point of my professor's provocative question is this: just as we find it absurd to think that Christ would live like that, we must also find it absurd, and contrary to the fundamental identity of the other person, if we found her living a life of addiction and self-destruction.

The image and likeness of God, as Christ himself embodied (cf. Col 1.15) -- that is the true identity of every human person. All else is falsehood and lies, a distortion by the devil of what God intended for the human person. This is how we ought to think of other persons: all their sins and vices and evils are not part of the real person; all that is false, and the true is the Christ within them, the Christ that can be within them.

We ought to think the same way about ourselves, too. Paul tells us over and over again, in a million different ways, that we ought to consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ (Rom 6.11). We have to begin to think differently about ourselves, and to understand our true identity, our true self is not the sinful one who is a slave to vices and evils of various sorts, the one who doesn't trust God and who doesn't obey the word; the true self is the self we find in Christ Jesus, the telos of all humanity.