Why is it so hard to be like Jesus? We all fall far short when it comes to imitating Jesus. We all do things he would never do, and fail to do things he would do without question. We act selfishly, and stupidly and heartlessly at times.
Many of us, myself included, sin with quite a bit of regularity. We repeat the same mistakes, make the same bad choices over and over again.
We feel bad about it. We truly do. And we want God to forgive us. And he does. We all desperately need his mercy, a his gentleness, his understanding, and his forgiveness. We would be lost and broken and hopeless without those things. We would be in trouble if we had to do it all on our own. Is that always what’s happening when our lives don’t look very similar to the life of Jesus? Or is something else going on?
As you know, it’s not always easy to know exactly what God wants from us. Life can be complicated. Situations can be complicated. People can be complicated. And of course, on top of that, we don’t have an absolute complete picture of Jesus: his every word, his every action, or his every expectation. Some of the stories about him are puzzling. Some of the stories he told are strange and confusing at times. And as a result, sometimes we simply don’t have a clear-cut answer to every moral question, and sometimes truly have to wrestle with and agonize over what choice to make in a given situation.
But, if we simply reflect on that part of Scripture known as the Beatitudes: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, turn the other cheek, give your cloak AND tunic, from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back, do unto others as you would have them do to you, lend without expecting repayment, do good to your enemies, be merciful, stop judging, stop condemning, forgive and give. Can we say that we want to be just like Jesus? Can we say in all honesty that imitating Jesus is truly our goal, the thing we want above all else?
Or is something else going on? I think you know. I’m convinced that my greatest sins have little to do with trying to be like Jesus and simply failing in the process. And the reason I don’t like to admit that is because of what it says about me. You see, my greatest sin might just be my stubborn unwillingness to even TRY to be like Jesus, my unwillingness to even WANT to be like him, to sincerely DESIRE to love as he loved and continues to love.
The requirements of the commitment we say we have made perhaps challenge us in ways we simply don’t want to be challenged. Are we even close to being who Jesus wants us to be? Or do we want to continue being people who need to get even, need to hurt those who have hurt us, need to hold on to grudges, need to cling tightly to our possessions, need to withhold our forgiveness, need to punish, need to judge, need to condemn, need to keep working tirelessly to secure the biggest piece of the pie?
Which is it? Who are we at this very moment? And who do we want to be tomorrow?
Deacon Stuart Neslin is a Parish Deacon and Parish Administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome.