Paul, anguished and ashamed about portions of his biography, is hardly timid about others.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Lest we take the familiar path of dismissing Paul as uncouth and reptilian, it’s a good thing to notice how closely he links his worthiness to Christ and the ‘traditions’ about Jesus that he stewards for the sake of the communities he loves.
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
Paul is an independent person, of sorts, able at the drop of a hat to deny hotly that he owes anyone, that he needs the approval of anyone, that he answers to anyone but Christ himself. Yet the man is also immersed in a matrix of relationships that means he cannot conceive of his own identity as anything other than linked to Christ and linked to those for whom he is prepared to cede his life the moment it becomes necessary to do so.
He imitates Christ. He considers that others can safely imitate him. That is, the basic patterns of his life—if his followers take them on as their own—will neither mislead nor destroy.
Is this strange? Not so much.
I share with a goodly company the blessing of looking back over the decades and recalling the faces, the names, the accent, the way with a crisis, the management of the ordinary that I watched in those individuals who have shaped my own little life. Brooke. Jerry. Dad. Mom. Royce. Bill. Robert. In watching, I suppose I became like them.
Their names are, as the well-weathered phrase puts it, ‘of blessed memory’.
Imitating them—usually unconsciously, for it would have seemed a bit melodramatic to say it that way—was a safe thing. They were reliable in that way.
Like Paul, they imitated Jesus as best they could. They clung, though sometimes with uncertain grip, to the ‘traditions’ passed on by those who had known him well.
We could do with a few more persons who are worthy of imitation.
The modesties of our own age shade easily over into denial of things that are true. All virtues do that, when taken to their extreme. We struggle a bit to imagine ourselves or anyone else saying ‘Be like me.’
Yet our communities are still peopled with those whose lives, though they would not say so, can safely be copied. We do not commit that mortal sin of our time—losing ourselves—by doing so.
On the contrary, we find that our own stature and way are made stronger, more beautiful, more useful because we have stood in the shadow of small heroes.