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Maundy Thursday and Our Lesser Calvaries

Today is Maundy Thursday, or “Commandment” Thursday, when the church remembers Jesus’ final instruction on the meaning of his death and its application in the Christian life: “As I have loved you, so you are to love one another” (John 13:34). As Jesus put it, ”A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the master, and the slave like the master.” (Matt 10:24)

We can go the way of Bultmann and the gnostics, rejecting imitation; or we can go the way of Jesus and the apostles, teaching and practicing imitation.

I recently finished going through the gospels, looking at all the places where Jesus explicitly (i.e., Matt 10:24) or implicitly (i.e., showing the mercy he has required) describes himself as a model for his disciples. The number of instances in Matthew alone is staggering. The connections between Jesus’ tasks and the things required of his disciples are too frequent to be accidental or incidental, which prompts the question…

Why the repetition?

(1) Because we need to know that Jesus did all that he requires for us, fulfilling all righteousness (Matt 3:15).

(2) Because the life modeled by Jesus and required of his disciples is a cross-shaped life, featuring radical forgiveness, radical mercy, radically speaking the truth of the gospel in the face of opposition. This life is such “a radical challenge to natural human valuation that it needs constant repetition” (France Matthew 374).

(2) Because of the extent of application of the imitation of Jesus: family, enemies, strangers, vocation, sexuality, witness, generosity-these areas of life and many others require us to take on self-denial. (Among other implications, the degree of repetition in Scripture and the extent of application means that a one-off sermon mentioning the imitation of Jesus in guarded tones is simply not enough of a diet.)

The degree of difficulty is also, no doubt, why Matthew concludes with the promise of Jesus’ unending presence with his disciples. For it is one thing to attempt going to a cross alone. It is another to go with a Friend who has taken up his own cross and gone beyond to resurrection and enthronement, who whispers promises of glory and enthronement in our heart as we journey toward our lesser Calvaries.