After the World Cup there was a video going on around on facebook of a young soccer team. The players were all young children, less than 10 years old I’d guess. The coach has them all line up and then start dribbling a ball. After a few seconds he yells out, “Neymar!” And all the players immediately fall to the ground and grab either their knee or ankle and start crying.
They say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
It’s in our human nature for all of us, since we were very little. As little children we try to imitate our parents. Then of course the parents are mortified when a child begins imitating a particular bad habit, only to realize where said child learned that language or behavior. Outside of this Neymar joke, kids constantly try to imitate their favorite athletes, whether it’s a particular batting stance, or the latest dunk. As adults, in our workplaces we look up to certain leaders and try to imitate their practices. The list goes on and on.
Today St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we are to, “Imitate God.” What? How is that possible? How can you or I, limited as human beings, imitate God? We are sinners, we are broken, how can we possibly imitate God?
It starts right here. At this Altar. With the Eucharist, the, “living bread that came down from heaven.” The only way for us to become imitators of God is for us first to be transformed by God himself. Receiving this Bread of Life is meant to change us. It gives us the grace, the strength and courage we don’t have on our own, so that we might truly become capable of imitating God in every aspect of our life.
But after we receive the Eucharist, how are we to go about imitating God? St. Paul tells us that first we must remove, “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling.” And that then it must be replaced with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. He then goes even further by encouraging us to, “live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us, as a sacrificial offering to God.”
If we want to be imitators of God, then we are called to imitate his sacrificial love for us. In the Eucharist we receive his body, which he gave up for us on the Cross. Christ’s death on the Cross was the greatest act of sacrificial love ever. When it transforms us, then we become capable of imitating and living that same kind of sacrificial love.
This sacrificial love is not the love of good feelings. It’s not the love where you do something for someone else because it makes you feel good inside or later they will do something else for you. Rather, it is sacrificial because it is completely for the other, not concerned at all with oneself.
So in your homes, when you are tired, frustrated or annoyed, but your husband, wife, child, parent or sibling need your help, do it out of sacrificial love. Don’t make excuses, complain or expect anything in return. Love them by offering yourself in service to them. In that way you will be able to imitate God in your home.
Then when you leave your home and go out into your neighborhoods, places of work and schools, keep living that sacrificial love for others around you by helping those in need without counting the cost or worrying about what’s in it for me.
It’s easy to make excuses about why we aren’t good enough, we have our own problems, we are broken and limited too, why whatever little help we can offer won’t be enough etc. That’s why we receive the great gift of the Eucharist transform us into being capable of imitating God through sacrificial love.
Why should we even bother trying to be imitators of God?
The most direct answer is that St. Paul tells us to do so, but I know you’re probably wanting something more.
Beyond St. Paul’s command, we can return to our Gospel for more answers.
Firstly, we are called to imitate God in order for the salvation of our own souls. Christ tells us that we who believe, we who receive this living bread from heaven, we who imitate God, will have eternal life, will live forever.
Secondly, we imitate God in order to evangelize. To draw others to God. In the Gospel, the Jews couldn’t recognize Jesus as God. How many people in our community and society today fail to recognize God? It can be so difficult for any number of reasons. Our job is to be imitators of God through sacrificial love, so that others may come to know God too. When others see true, authentic acts of sacrificial love, it is attractive, it draws them into the mystery of God. This isn’t just my job as the priest. I can’t possibly be everywhere at once. This task of evangelization is on all of you to carry out, as imitators of God, in your homes, neighborhoods, the store, school and work.
We spend so much time imitating others. In sports, school, work, dance, play etc. Do we also spend time imitating God? It’s not easy, but God gives us the great gift of his very son to us in the Eucharist so that we might be made capable of imitating his same sacrificial love. By imitating God in this way we can enjoy eternal life, and hopefully, draw others to God as well.
Immaculate Conception Church
August 12, 2018 A.D. – 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B
*As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes, and naturally there are variations from Mass to Mass.