St Paul urges us to be “imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” What a beautiful description of Christian discipleship. Do we offer a fragrant aroma of Chris’s love to those we encounter? St. Paul I think is also asking whether others see Christ in us, whether we offer a fragrant aroma of Christ’s love in such a way that they hunger for what we witness, the joy and peace that come with a personal relationship with Jesus through the Church he instituted.
St Paul gives us the formula for being Christ-like – “remove all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, along with malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving of one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” That is impossible to do on our own but with the Bread of Life in word and Eucharist we are fed with the strength to do so.
An alternative to being imitators of Christ is seen in the Gospel reading there were murmurers who could not or would not open their hearts to the Bread of Life standing before them because their focus was so narrow and in on themselves. Looking up the phrase to murmur among the definitions was to grumble, to grouse, to bellyache. There is much murmuring today.
Some years ago Time Magazine had a cover story with the title: ‘Busy Bodies and Cry Babies: What’s Happening to the American Character?’ That is a subject to ponder in our day as we experience the petty divides and incivility that threaten the fabric of our freedom, our families and our future. It is an even more significant question to ponder today in the midst of social media where anything goes with the truth too often its casualty.
Most of us remember crybabies from our youth. They were the ones who whenever anything went wrong, especially if they caused it, would cry, point fingers, blame others. Having grown up with five brothers and sisters and many cousins, I have experienced crybabies. In fact I was one myself. It’s like Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon who when she missed catching an easy fly ball in the outfield blamed poor Charlie Brown for throwing the wrong pitch. Hopefully we grow out of that condition, not all do.
Adult cry babies are those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions gone awry, or do not humbly own up and say I am sorry and seek to make things right. There is much in the world and in our lives that are painful and hard to deal with that are not our faults. But God gifted us with free will which allows us to make choices which are not always good or healthy ones. With faith and moral grounding in the teachings of Christ and the grace that comes through the sacraments, we can with integrity cope without murmuring, l knowing He is with us always with us.
Unlike cry babies who focus in on themselves, busy bodies assume responsibility for others that is not their due. With a callous eye they watch, criticize and judge. A favorite line begins: “they should have.” Lucy in another Peanuts cartoon said to Charlie Brown, “You know what the whole trouble with you is, Charlie Brown?” “No,” he responds, “I don’t want to know; leave me alone.” Lucy shouts after him as he runs away, “The whole trouble with you, Charlie Brown, is you won’t listen to what the whole trouble with you is.” A true busy body. Imitators of Christ are not crybabies or busy bodies; they are believers who know they are sinners and of their need for God, trusting in His way and confident and who trust not only in his way but in his love and mercy.
Elijah in the 1st reading was fleeing for his life. Jezebel sought to silence his prophetic voice. He was worn down. “This is enough,” he declared. “Lord, take my life.” But God through the angels brought Elijah what was needed to give him the strength to persevere and continue his prophetic journey. We too do not walk alone unless we choose to do so.
Judith was a mother with a young daughter, Brianna, very down and desperate. Her job barely covered expenses. With tears in her eyes on the way home from work, she cried out one night, “Father, you say you are Our Father. Well, you have a daughter to look after and she is hungry some nights, please help.” As she neared her apartment a man approached and said, “Hi, Judith, how are you doing.” “Fine, thank you,” she replied not recognizing the man. “How’s Brianna?”. “She’s great,” Judith replied wondering how this man knew her daughter’s name. The man handed her a folded $50 bill and walked away. She turned to respond to the gesture, but he was gone. The person recalling this story commented, “Judith doesn’t bother with a discussion of whether or not this man was an angel. All she knows is that he acted as a messenger reminding her of the priceless reward for trusting in God with unending hope.” He was an imitator of God, and of Christ’s love. So can we be when we look up from ourselves and see Christ in others.
The story is told of a ship traveling over the ocean from Europe to America. One night a storm arose which woke everyone up and terrified them. Some jumped from their beds and dressed in preparation for an evacuation. The captain’s eight year old daughter awoke with the others and asked what was going on. She was told about the storm. “Is father on deck?,” she asked. ‘Yes, your father the captain is on deck,” she was told. “Then it will be all right,” she said, and went back to sleep.
Crybabies and busy bodies don’t trust the captain, they murmur and they worry. Imitators of Christ know the ultimate captain is always on deck and trust him in the storms to lead safely to port. An early Christian wrote: “Jesus asks only that we unite ourselves to his most divine life by imitating it to the best of our ability so as to enter into real communion with God and God’s divine mysteries.” Today may we recommit to our baptismal promise to imitate Christ, the Bread of Life, to the best of our ability and so enter into a lasting communion with Him.