Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Seeing Jesus to Be Jesus

This post is also published in today's newsletter for St. John's, Decatur. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn about what God is doing in our parish, click here.

Last week, I heard a piece on NPR about the need for diversity in the case studies that are used at Harvard Business School. For a business student, the case study method is the heart of a graduate program. It allows students to see and learn from some of the most demanding situations in business history. By presenting a real-life circumstance in great detail, the case study provides students with a chance to dissect business decisions before they find themselves operating in the real world—not unlike a medical student’s work on a cadaver. As a leader in business education, Harvard sets the standard for many other institutions, and I remember using some of its case studies when I was an MBA student at Troy University.

Because business schools all over the world rely on Harvard’s case studies, the choices that that institution makes shape the education of many students, and it has recently come under fire for its disproportionate reliance on white-owned and white-led businesses. Although the rough mechanics of business are the same regardless of the color of the leadership, race plays a factor when it comes to funding, hiring practices, and other management techniques. Plus, more substantially, when all the case studies focus on white business leaders, black entrepreneurs have no role models that look like them and that have experienced the unique challenges of being an African-American business owner. As Latoya Marc put it in the interview, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.[1]

Consider all of the people whose example we have pursued, whose model we have emulated. Parents, teachers, and coaches. Doctors, dentists, and veterinarians. Clergy, neighbors, and civic leaders. Who did you want to be when you were a child? What role model propelled you into your career? Whose esteem did you crave when you were starting out? Did your pediatrician help you dream of being a physician? Did Sally Ride help you believe that you, too, could reach the stars?

As followers of Jesus, we are called to walk in his footsteps, to take up our own cross, and to accept a life spent pursuing God’s kingdom. He is our example. He is our pattern. We cannot be Jesus, of course, but we do believe that in Baptism we die with him as we are raised to the new life that he has given us. We believe that the Holy Spirit gives us the power to become agents of God’s work in the world. And we believe that we are integral to that work of bringing all things to their completion.

As the collected disciples of Jesus, we are the Body of Christ—an image that shows itself in many facets. There is, of course, the body of Jesus that died on the cross, that was raised to new life, and that presented itself to Thomas and the other disciples as a clear and concrete sign of Christ’s victory over death. There is also the bread-become-body that we celebrate and share in the Lord’s Supper as we proclaim Christ’s real presence among us and partake in the mystical union that his body grants us with him and with each other. Then, as the “one, true, catholic, and apostolic Church,” we become the Body of Christ—the union of members, the Spirit-animated being that lives and breathes as Christ on earth still to this day. The eastern church does a better job of seeing itself as the same body that was crucified, raised, and given to God’s people, but, whether we understand it or not, we use the language of the body to describe ourselves and our connection with other Christians. It is who we are. It is who we are called to become.

But how hard it is to be what we cannot see! Over the years, more than a few people have said to me in one way or another that they want to be more Christ-like. They want to be more patient. They want to be more peaceful. They want to have the kind of relationship with God that gives purpose and meaning to life. Usually, my invitation to that longing is to encourage that person to pursue Jesus. Come to church more often and sit in the front row. Set aside fifteen minutes to be with Jesus in silence every day. Read the stories of his life and ministry as a daily discipline. Say your prayers, and, if you cannot find the words to say on your own, put aside the distractions of the world and sit quietly or use the words of Psalms or the prayer book as your own. The point is that we are shaped by our encounters with Jesus. If we have none, why would we expect our lives to become more like his?
Although not actually found among her writings, sixteenth-century poet and mystic Teresa of Ávila is said to have written, “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.” Whoever actually composed those lines, the point rings true. We are the Body of Christ here in this world, and what sort of body we will become depends both on the Holy Spirit’s power and on our availability to respond to its gifts. It is hard to be what we cannot see. If we cannot see Christ, how will we become Christ to the world? If we do not make ourselves available to God in worship, in prayer, in study, and in action, how will he use us to complete his saving work? If you have not encountered Jesus in a while, come and see. Meet him amidst the rest of his body. Share in his membership. Allow a daily encounter with Christ to shape you into the part of his body that God is calling you to be.

[1] “Harvard Business School Moves to Study More Diverse Cases” NPR, 2 May 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/05/02/526514154/harvard-business-school-moves-to-study-more-diverse-cases.

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