Sunday, October 16, 2011

Notes on identity: imitation of Jesus

As you probably know, next weekend I am going to a retreat with the folks of my parish. The recurring theme will be the topic of identity, which will be wisely approached from different perspectives. In some sort of preparation for the retreat I have been more attentive lately to the passages of the gospel that could shed some light on this topic and talk to our lives. In one of my readings, I came across the following passage.
I tell you the truth:  the Son can do nothing by himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does in the same manner. (Jn 5,19)
This passage strikes me as very fundamental. What Jesus does is to imitate the Father. He does not claim anything of his own, but he only does what he sees the Father doing. He is the less original guy ever. (!) All he does is completely rooted in the Father.  So possessed is Jesus by the Spirit of the Father, that whoever has seen him, has seen the Father (Jn 14,9). He is his perfect image.

Now, does not all these stand in contrast to the common delusion of the world that asks us to be original? A world that seems to be saying that to be ourselves we need to claim or be different from the rest of the people? This is not what we see in Jesus though, he claims no originality.  

If René Girard is right, our identity as humans is constructed by imitation of the desire of another. Therefore the key point is not whether we should be original or not (assuming that we could be), but who is going to be our model, from whom are we going to draw our personality.

Jesus imitates the Father. Because of this he is not of the world. Likewise we are called not to be of the world, building up our identity from mimetic rivalries, but to do the same as Jesus, to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5,48). And, since whoever see Jesus sees he Father, we are then called to imitate Jesus.

Finally, it is interesting to remember what Paul said to the Corinthians: Imitate me, as I imitate Christ. Very interesting phrase, that can spur some discussion! It may simply mean that we need to learn how to imitate Jesus in part by looking of how other followers of Jesus imitate him.

All in all, originality is over, when thinking about your identity, look at this question: who are you imitating?

Language note. For the geeky ones that, like me, want to translate the passage themselves, the above verse (Jn 5,19) in Greek is:
Ἀπεκρίνατο οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ δύναται ὁ υἱὸς ποιεῖν ἀφ’ ἑαυτοῦ οὐδέν, ἂν μή τι βλέπῃ τὸν πατέρα ποιοῦντα· ἃ γὰρ ἂν ἐκεῖνος ποιῇ, ταῦτα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς ποιεῖ ὁμοίως. 

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