In Imitation of God — Center for Action and Contemplation

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In Imitation of God

Jesus of Nazareth: Week 2

In Imitation of God
Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Theologian and New Testament scholar Marcus Borg (1942-2015) significantly contributed to our new understanding of Jesus in his historical and cultural context. Today I’d like to share Borg’s insights on how Jesus pursued the imitatio dei (imitation of God) as his life’s purpose. This is the best any of us can do: to act as God acts (see Ephesians 5:1). But first we must be clear about how God acts, which is why we need good theology. Borg writes:

The central imperative in the teaching of Jesus is to live in accord with God’s character: “Be compassionate, as God is compassionate.” . . . We are to feel for others as God feels for all of God’s children and act accordingly. . . .

The author of John’s gospel speaks of God’s love for the world: “For God so loved the world . . .” (3:16). Jesus, for John, is the revelation of God’s love, and so the imitatio dei then becomes an imitatio Christi, an imitation of Jesus. The Jesus of John’s gospel says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34). The symmetry between the message of Jesus and the testimony of the post-Easter community is striking: love one another because the character of God as known in Jesus is love.

We move from how Jesus saw the character of God to how he saw the passion of God. God’s character and passion are not separate, but closely related, just as they are in people. Our passion—our dedicated devotion, our consuming interest, our concentrated commitment—is a major indicator of our character, indeed, flows out of our character. So it is in Jesus’s teaching about God. God’s character and passion, what God is like and God’s will for the world, go hand in hand.

God’s passion is justice. . . . As the social form of compassion, justice is about politics [the word “politics” comes from the Greek polis for “city”]. . . . Politics is about the shape and shaping, the structure and structuring, of the city and, by extension, of human communities more generally, ranging from the family to society as a whole. . . . Justice is the political form of compassion, the social form of love, a compassionate justice grounded in God as compassionate. . . .

The way of Jesus was both personal and political. It was about personal transformation. And it was political, a path of [nonviolent] resistance to the domination system and advocacy of an alternative vision of life together under God. His counter advocacy, his passion for God’s passion, led to his execution. . . .

What would Jesus do in our context? He might once again disrupt the temple—the unholy alliance between religion and empire. I think he would teach the wrongness and futility of violence in human affairs. He would be passionate about compassion and justice as the primary virtues of a life centered in the God whom he knew. And of course, he would teach the importance of a deep centering in God.

Marcus Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (HarperSanFrancisco: 2006), 184-186, 226, 305.

Image credit: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (detail), by Caravaggio, 1601-02, Sanssouci, Potsdam.
The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love. —Richard Rohr
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