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The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

First Reading Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1
Gospel Mark 1:40-45

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

St. Paul’s words in our Second Reading take on a very practical meaning for Christians. Saint Paul exhorts the Corinthians: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”. Reflect on how these words apply to Christian fatherhood in both the Sacrament of Marriage and the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Start with the vocation of priesthood. If you’ve ever gotten into a debate with non-Catholics about Jesus’ command, “Call no man on earth your father, for you have but one Father in heaven” [Mt 23:9], there are many Scripture verses from St. Paul that you might have quoted in reply.

For example, earlier in the same letter that today’s Second Reading comes from, Saint Paul explains how the Corinthians have one father. He squarely preaches to them, “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father… it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus” [1 Cor 4:15]. It’s hard to imagine—if you were to interpret Holy Scripture in a literalistic sense—any words that more directly contradict Jesus’ command to “call no man on earth your father” than what St. Paul says about himself: “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father… it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus”.

Yet St. Paul’s words at the end of today’s Second Reading only seem to raise further questions. He commands those listening to him: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Why doesn’t St. Paul just say instead, “Be imitators of Christ, as I imitate Christ”?

But these words of St. Paul don’t contradict Jesus’ command to call no man on earth one’s father. They deepen the revelation of Jesus. Christian fathers, whether in the home or in the sanctuary, are called to say by their examples and their words: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Christian fathers can lead their children into the life of Christ more or less effectively. You might describe the difference between less effective and more effective Christian fatherhood by calling one “mere imitation”, and the other “living imitation”. We know that the English word “imitation” is itself ambiguous. We sometimes use the word “imitation” negatively, to imply that something is phony, a counterfeit or a knock-off (for example, “imitation leather”). On the other hand, we believe the proverb that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. This ambiguity sheds light on the difference between two ways that fathers can imitate Christ, and lead their children to do the same.

On the one hand is “mere imitation”. “Mere imitation” is not necessarily bad, but it is limited, and it’s much less than what Jesus asks for from Christian fathers. An example of “mere imitation” would be an imitation of a great historical figure. For example, you see a book titled The Leadership Secrets of George Washington. This title implies that perhaps you too could be a great leader if you were to copy Washington’s actions. We might also take this tack with Jesus, but Jesus wants human fathers not merely to copy Him from the outside looking in.

On the other hand is a “living imitation”. This is what St. Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to. This is what Jesus prays to God the Father for at the Last Supper: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

The “living imitation” that Christian fathers offer their children begins with those fathers abiding in Christ. Jesus speaks about this at length at the Last Supper [see John 14-17]. This is an imitation of Christ from the inside, looking out with love upon one’s children. God Himself calls fathers—and of course, mothers also—to live as examples for their children to imitate. They first do so by teaching their children how to abide in God’s Presence, and how to allow Christ to abide within them.