Summary: March 10, 2002 -- FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm 23 You have anointed my head with oil. (Ps. 23:5) Ephesians 5:8-14 John 9:1-41 Color: Purple Ephesians 5:8-14 Title: “Imitation of Christ”
March 10, 2002 -- FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT
You have anointed my head with oil. (Ps. 23:5)
Title: “Imitation of Christ”
Paul’s basic formula, “Become what you are,” determines the structure of Pauline letters. The first part of his or his disciples’ letters deal with “what you are,” what Christ has made the Christian. This part is frequently called the “doctrinal” section and its mood is in the “indicative,” the philological mood of facts. The other part deals with “Become,” and is frequently called the “moral,” or “paraenetic,” or “hortatory,” section. It is written in the “imperative,” mood and or the “subjunctive,” the mood wherein the speaker or writer does not take responsibility for the facticity of what is said, the mood of wish, hope, “should be,” or “let be.” The Greek of Paul’s day, koine Greek, had dropped the “optative,” mood, the mood of “would that,” a distinct verbal form, and its nuances were subsumed by the subjunctive mood. This text is in the hortatory section of a letter written by one of Paul’s disciples to Christians in Asia Minor around 90AD.
Using “light,” and “darkness,” as metaphors for right and wrong conduct is virtually universal, found in all religions, a favorite antithesis of the Essenes and of Jesus, especially in the Johannine literature. Paul uses it frequently, examples, 1Thes 5:5; Phil 2:15. Though the early Christians “milked,” if you will pardon the mixing of metaphors, water-imagery for all it was worth, they also liked to compare Baptism to enlightenment. True, light comes in second when it comes to Baptism talk, but it is a close second. The epistles are always exhorting to “become what you are,” by remembering what you have become, remembering Baptism, imitating Jesus and Paul, by “acting as if… and then you will become.” That is what “imitation of Christ,” means. It is not hypocrisy. It is not pretending to be on the outside what you are not on the inside. It is living one’s inside out. Thus the “indicative,” of one’s spiritual experience provides the basis for the “imperative,” of appropriate action.
In verse eight, now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light: Christians are not “light,” in themselves, only “in the Lord.” Christian being is not an autonomous being. We are nothing, except what we are in the Lord, have been made by the Lord and our association with him. Because we are aware of whose we are, our doing is consistent with that light. We behave in a way coherent with Christ and thus become on the level of human life what we have become or been made on the level of divine life. In Mark 4:21 Jesus put the two ideas together when he compared Christians to lamps. A lamp is not light itself, but a vehicle for its shining. In giving light it also sheds light on itself and can be seen for what it is. That is the notion here. Darkness represents evil and Satan; light stands for goodness and God. “Children of light,” is a Hebraism for “enlightened people.”
In verse nine, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth: In the Greek we have an ellipsis rather than a sentence. Thus, something must be added to have it make sense. The Greek reads, “for the fruit of light is seen in every…” The word “fruit,” is a common metaphor in the New Testament, an agricultural one. Just as a seed frequently a metaphor for “word,” unfolds, reveals the kind of seed it is in the full-blown plant, and thus fulfills its own nature by becoming what it is, by producing fruit, so the light of Christ’s presence in the depths of the human heart is the “seed” from which everything grows, everything that is “good, that is “right, “ that is “true.” The Christian is the soil, not the seed. In Galantines 5:22 Paul calls these and other virtues “fruits of the Spirit.”
In verse ten, try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord: The New Testament disappoints legalists, although they continue to try, who look for specific rules and regulations to apply to every situation. The New Testament does offer guidelines of conduct, but they are general principles virtues, fruits, not precise prescriptions. “Try to learn,” translates a participle, dokimazontes, meaning “examining, discerning, discovering.” It is used in two senses: First, to prove, to show something for what it is; and second, to approve, to acquiesce, to agree, to behave differently because of what is proved to be the case. To please the Lord, Christ, is to gain his approval by behaving in a way consistent with what he has made us. The essence of Christian obedience is not the keeping of rules but living in the conscious presence of Christ, the light, and thereby developing an intuitive sense in each changing situation what Christ would approve of. Christ’s acceptance of us is a given. What behavior he approves of is a discovery.