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By: The Rev. Jazzy Bostock
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. . .
On first glance, the imperative seems like the original WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) – exhorting listeners to be as Christ-like as possible. And there is good theology naming each of us as little Christs, with the responsibilities that go along with such a title. But I have to wonder: is it actually possible for the same mind to be in us that was in Christ Jesus? I mean, isn’t that what makes Jesus spectacular, and set apart, and Divine—that his mind was different from each of ours?
Paired with the long gospel for Palm Sunday, the sentiment is particularly challenging. In our gospel, Jesus is anointed, breaks bread with his disciples, prays, is betrayed, tried, stripped, mocked, and crucified. And not once in the trials does Jesus raise a hand or give a harsh word to those who are causing him such pain. He is the picture of non-violence, even to the point of a cruel death.
Can that same mind really be in us, which was in him? And if we can have such a mind, then what about the heart? What about the spirit? How much like Jesus can we be?
I think another way to ask that question might be: how much like us is Jesus? How human is the Son of God, exactly? And, if you’re anything like me, it sort of depends on what day you ask. Sometimes, I feel like Jesus was very human. I think of the Syrophoenician woman, for instance, when Jesus compares her to a dog. A very human moment. I think of some of the times he behaved in ways I find unpalatable—perhaps not radical enough, or conforming too closely to the culture of his day. When I read those passages, I am convinced of Jesus’ humanness. But then there are other times like this gospel reading, where, even in the midst of his own betrayal, he implores his disciples to non-violence, when I am convinced that Jesus is very little like me. When I read stories of his healing, or the miracles he performs, I feel like we have little in common, and he moves from on-the-ground human to pie-in-the-sky Divine.
What I see in myself, as I grapple with the question, is my own flip-flopping. My emotional state controls much of how I see the world. And my emotional state is sometimes swayed by something as simple as a cup of coffee, or a well-placed snack. There’s something about Jesus, in comparison, which feels solid; certain; sure. And how did he get that way?
As I’ve travelled through the last pandemic year, logging on to Facebook most mornings to lead morning prayer for my church, I’ve been reminded of the way that regular prayer works its way into my body. Jesus prays often in our gospels. And yet, because it’s usually just one sentence, it hasn’t always been something I’ve focused on. Prayer is central to his ministry. It bookends almost every miracle he performs and guides his interactions. I am not nearly so solid in my own prayer discipline, though I am learning. Tethering myself to a daily practice—to the rhythm of the apostles creed and the prayers, tedious though they may seem in the moment—gives me a sense of regulation. Though this regulation is far from making me as solid and sure as Jesus seems to be, it certainly tethers some of my more wayward leanings.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, then, might not be about whether we can become Jesus—that is, not about whether we can change our core personalities—rather, it might be about how we pattern and regulate our lives; what we allow to guide and shape us. For Jesus, prayer was the guiding force of his life. Prayer surrounded and infused all he did. In his last moments of life, he prayed from the cross, for himself and others.
I doubt that I can be very much like Jesus, because I doubt my own capacity for forgiveness and love and mercy, all of which Jesus had. I doubt my own motivations, and know my ego gets in the way too much. But perhaps I can be a little bit like Jesus by teaching my wayward heart, again and again, to return to God in prayer. And to keep returning.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. And let it be molded by prayer.